Paid Leave? What about Paid Childcare?

I went back to work after 8 weeks of maternity leave.

I was sad about that — it impacted my nursing relationship with my daughter, my general health and recovery post childbirth, but … I had *fun* that first day back. It was the first time since I’d had a baby I felt like myself. I wanted to be there.

I am so, so lucky, however. My husband stays home with our child. (That’s one of the reasons I went back so early — with both of us home, and not getting paid, it started to feel decadent.) I lived ten minutes from the office, and had a boss and a team that was not looking for me on a structured timeline; I could come in at 7 and leave at 4 during the periods of time my daughter was up for the day by 5 and asleep for the night (“night”) by 6. I could change that when her sleeping schedule changed. etc.

I could not have gone back to work — a thing I wanted to do and and I thing I’m grateful I could do— if I had not had reliable and trusted childcare and a degree of flexibility at work. Sure, I would have loved to be paid to stay home longer, but I don’t know that paid leave is the most important part of this story. The solution is not just about enabling a longer period of time home with a baby. Babies do not stop getting sick inconveniently or needing care after 4 months. If I had to ask for assistance and help from an employer or from the government, I would be begging — screaming — to make the need for child care AFTER maternity leave a thing that is easier and more reliable to have.

That means I can stop looking forward to public school to serving as a babysitter and instead do what it’s intended to do — educate my child — while having options for care if I have to work at a schedule not convenient to school hours. That the important cognitive formation years that occur BEFORE public school is even an option do not lay dormant.

Paid leave sounds great. I’d love to get paid to spend time with my kid. But paid leave is looking at a finite window of time, and my child — and my job — need me after that magical 4 month mark.

(originally published on Medium)

A recent Ted Talk podcast I was listening to – something I queued up because it claimed to be about trust in business, between employers and employees but pivoted rather drastically into Trust in Marriage (note: I wish I listed to the whole thing before recommending it to colleagues; now they all think I’m giving them marriage advice). But the pivot was good:
“When a couple comes to [therapy] in the aftermath of an affair, I will often tell them this – today, in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages and some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?”
The piece was about rebuilding trust after an affair, but I think it’s more broadly applicable. I am not the same person I was ten years ago when I met Mike; it’s been a few careers, states, a baby, a decade away from that hopeful day when I saw a cute guy at the triathlon club happy hour. And the marriage we had in our first years could be considered over; if that was Marriage 1.0, we’re totally in 2.0. We’re the same but with necessary upgrades to adapt to the environment, if you will.. And that’s ok, it’s been a literal decade. And couldn’t you say some of the beauty of marriage is our ability to acknowledge to each other: “So, this is new. And I’m not quite sure if the old routines are working. But I’m still in. Let’s figure it out.”
So anyway. Which marriage are you on?

Happy with the Job

There was a recently published article in the NYT profiled titled “ Mom: The Designated Worrier

In full disclosure, I haven’t read it, but I’ve seen a lot of discussion about it. (I’m breaking my own rule here, the one I established when Lean In came out: “I refuse to discuss this book with people who have only read critiques of it, and not that actual book.” That was a really good policy. I should probably take my own advice but then, I wouldn’t be here, so)

Anyway, I’ve heard a lot recently about “invisible work”, the things you do around your life that no one notices but that everyone needs: cycling out the kid’s clothes when the season changes. Packing for a family trip. Getting an oil change for the car. Whatever. The routine stuff that one person just does, unnoticed. Invisible work. Worrying probably feels like invisible work as well.

I like what Joanne Wilson had to say in response to that article and that concept:

I would be fully shocked if I came home one day and Fred had prepared a meal for the family.  It just wouldn’t happen.  I took that under my wing a long time ago.  Roles are good.  It makes for great partnerships.  Setting them up from the beginning is important.  Getting lines crossed and blurred can create frustration and resentment.  Truth is, it is like a company, everyone plays a part and roles become more defined as the business grows.

It is interesting seeing our younger friends get married and have kids.  They are the next generation and the lines are more blurred but at the end of the day the roles become defined.  You just have to be happy with your job description.  Someone has to be the organizer, someone has to execute, someone has to worry, someone has to pay the bills, someone has to etc, etc.  Just be clear who has what covered.

“Roles are good. It makes for great partnerships”. I like that. It’s not about one person doing the stuff the other person doesn’t want to, it’s about each person understanding clearly the work expected of them and of their partners… and feeling like the work they do is recognized and needed….and equitably distributed.

So What, Who Cares

In absence of actual content to blog, I’m going to take a page (…haa bad writing pun not intended) from the lovely and fabulous Lisa Schmeiser, a woman noted for not only posting articles on Facebook with follow on comments suggesting further reading to enhance enjoyment of the initial piece, a practice I find delightfully geeky and also one that lends itself to fairly robust Facebook conversations, but also the author of So What, Who Cares, a daily email newsletter that has three to five news or pop culture items with a brief discussion of why you should care. This is exactly the kind of hand holding I currently need to remain a somewhat well read and moderately interesting adult, so I recommend it enthusiastically.

Anyway, in the spirit of that (but definitely not in the execution because there will be no related intelligent summary of the below) please to enjoy some things I’ve found kicking around that I’m still thinking about:

  • From Avidly: “Essays That We, As Ladies Of Early Middle Age, Would Like To See Written*”, my favorite of which is “I Have Thoughts About the Revolution, But I Have Not Slept and Can’t Find My Other Shoe”, which is pretty much becoming the alternate title of this blog. Other favorites include:
    • Women Who Take Care of Too Many People and the People Who Take Care of Them, i.e. Other Women
    • “Plans to Murder my Ex’s Now-Ex, or, Alternately, Take Her Out for Drinks”

  • From Buzzfeed: If Hermione Were The Main Character In “Harry Potter: Hermione Granger and the Goddamn Patriarchy.” This was one of the most delightful things I have read in a good long while:
    • Even though she’d read that women are less likely to speak up in classrooms, Hermione gave literally zero fucks for socially mandated gender roles.”
    • Professor Snape: “Tell me, Miss Granger, are you incapable of restraining yourself, or do you take pride in being an insufferable know-it-all?” HG, Boss Witch:“I’ll take pride in setting you the fuck on fire again, how about that?”
    • When confronted, Dumbledore did what Dumbledore did best – Left teenagers to deal with everything.
  • A bit of a longer read: “The Plath Resolution”:

For the past year and a half I’ve been going to yoga every Friday morning. Before this I’d done maybe a handful of classes and every one had left me in a barbed, mutinous mood. It was uncomfortable! And crowded! And on a couple occasions a little like being in a relationship where you end up shouting things like, “Don’t tell me to calm down!”…One Friday last spring, I woke up in a foul mood. No reason. I just woke up a human gargoyle. I considered skipping yoga because there was going to be a substitute teacher but talked myself into going anyway. (“Those toes aren’t going to touch themselves you know.”) It was a grey, stuffy morning, and the entire drive I was thinking a stream of fuckity-fuck-fuck gargoyle thoughts. At one point I drove past a line of Bradford pear trees in bloom, and got offended by how ugly and dirty-snowball-looking they were, and thought, “FUCK BRADFORD PEAR TREES.”

  • Nothing I’ve excerpted above actually has nothing to do with the point of the article, so you should probably just read it. In addition to enjoying a mental script that feels similar to my own (“fuckity-fuck-fuck gargoyle thoughts” is going to stick), I enjoyed the main idea that there is always going to be this better version of yourself, this woman in your mind that has corrected for the things you hate, a woman who remembers to buy stamps and pick up dry cleaning and has organized cabinets and great handwriting and has never once, not once, Febrezed the clothes on her body before walking out the door, but that woman doesn’t exist, and really: that’s ok. It’s ok. It’s good to want to do things better, and it’s ok to not actually achieve that goal.
  • Along those lines, I submit to you a picture of me that I subtitle: “How DOES She Do It All??” Well, dear reader, sometimes She Does It All by having her husband Gorilla Glue her boot together and then clamping it down with food clips so the adhesive can set while she drives into work wearing mismatched shoes, muttering repeatedly to herself “Remember to switch your shoes. Remember to switch your shoes”
  • Also, I don’t know what’s going on with my overall look here; I can only assume I was trying valiantly to recreate my middle school self’s desire to perfect the Cindy Mancini hair sweep, while trying to cobble together an outfit that didn’t scream “Look, I ran out of clean socks and can’t find my normal hose, you’re not perfect either, ok?”

A Marginally Better Adult

One thing I’ve noticed since having a kid is that I’ve become marginally better at life in ways that are surprising to me.

I mean, it’s not like I was a fantastic failure at life before, but there was that time my husband traveled for a month and I needed four separate line items on a reminder list that highlighted, basically, “Check the mail.”

When my daughter was very young – three, four weeks – I noticed that I was amazingly more motivated to be productive. In the past, I might have idly thought “oh yeah, I need to do laundry”, but once she was born, the few hours of the day I wasn’t holding her (and those were so, so very few) I was ON IT. Laundry! Dishes! Cleaning! Shower! Shit got DONE in a way shit has never really gotten done in my world. Probably because when you have all the time in the world to do things, you never really have to do them now.

Now that she’s ten months old, I’m productive in a different way. I’m much, much better now at compartmentalizing my life. I can’t stay late at work: my daughter goes to bed between 6 and 7pm; if I want to see her, I need to leave work on time. Which means I have to be ON IT when I’m at work, I can’t procrastinate a hard task to the afternoon; by the time the afternoon comes around I need to be getting stuff ready for the next day, because I need to be LEAVING or I don’t see my child. There’s a few hours in the morning before work that she’s awake, and I don’t want to spend that time in the shower and getting ready, so I get up and work out before her (ok, let’s be real, most days I just get up) and shower and get ready so I can spend those hours on the floor with her crawling around, getting baby giggles.

Writing this out, it sounds ridiculous. Duh, Liz, get shit done at work. But it’s been a shift for me; I left work today “early” because my babysitter had to leave early. It was hard to shut down before I was “done” and leave. But I did, and then I spent the afternoon in full mom mode. Not on my phone scanning email while she played, but with her, phone somewhere else. (Ed note: when I was on maternity leave and home with her all the time, I didn’t mind to go to the gym for an hour, or multi task catching up on twitter while the baby was playing. But now that there’s only a few hours with her? I try to put the phone somewhere else. I don’t drop her in gym day care and workout. It’s the only time I get; I’m trying to be there. I’d feel OH SO DIFFERENT if my mom-mode time wasn’t limited to like, 3 hours a day.)

Once she was asleep, I slipped back to Work-Liz, back on my laptop, finishing the day. I had never really been good at prioritizing my time exactly where it needed to be. Now, with a baby that has no capability to adjust to my schedule, I’ve had to learn. It’s been good. I’m happier. I feel like a marginally better person, a more functioning adult. And while I know as I reflect on my first year as a mom I will of course think about all the amazing ways my heart has grown, the impossible feeling of smiling in a way that actually hurts because I’m so happy to be staring at this child, or tears on a Tuesday night because I can’t believe my luck and my happiness, but this feeling, this concept of understanding, finally, at long last, how to actually function in the world like a grown person, is one that stands out just as much.

Oh man, lots going on, lots to talk about, but an absence of prioritization to talk about it. So let’s just jump in:

I recently read somewhere an anecdote about a Google interview:

“I’m going to give you five minutes,” he told me. “When I come back, I want you to explain to me something complicated that I don’t already know.” He then rolled out of the room toward the snack area. I looked at Cindy. “He’s very curious about everything,” she told me. “You can talk about a hobby, something technical, whatever you want. Just make sure it’s something you really understand well.”

I thought about that story for days. I told it to my husband, and said “I swear, I’ve been thinking about this for 72 hours, and I have no idea what I would explain if I were in that situation.”

Now, my husband loves the inner workings of things. He’s a thing finder outer type person (that is a play on a Colbert Report bit where he called white Americans “Thing stuff havers” vs “Thing stuff wanters”; after that segment Mike looked pointedly at my shoe collection and goes “honey. You are a thing stuff haver” and I swear, we’re still laughing about it. And since the Colbert Report fills me with joy on any given day, the clip is below, even though it has almost exactly nothing to do with what I’m talking about.

(Embed fail! Click here to watch.) (My complicated thing is not, apparently, how to embed video clips)

Anyway! My husband: a thing finder outer type person. He doesn’t, as a completely hypothetical example in no way reflective of our actual lives, observe that the headlight in the car is out and make motions towards getting it replaced, he wants to know WHY the headlight is out (burned out bulb? Quirky electrical?) and then fix THAT, unlike, say, his wife, who more or less registers that the car is showing less light than previously but then files that away for action at a future time.

Hypothetically, I mean.

Anyway! Mike, without even really thinking, began listing off complicated things that I could explain in that interview scenario:

  • Ballistic coefficients and the variables needed to test for long range accuracy at altitude
  • Down force and its effect on helicopter lift
  • The relationship between cost, weight, and aerodynamics and its impact on F1 regulation and innovation

to which I could only reply “Ok, so that’s… things YOU could explain” and he goes “… oh. Right.” But I’ve got to have something, right? I’m a smart gal, there has to be SOMETHING I would be able to offer, yes?

We got there, eventually. Because of course, I can talk at length about any number of things; the problem is they feel simple to me, not worth filing under “explain something complicated.” That is one of my strengths, this is how I could teach statistics to english majors well and take reams of data and summarize what that data is saying in 5 powerpoint slides: I simplify complicated things.

So what would YOU explain? What’s the thing you know like the back of your hand, but would feel complicated to others?

Man, Robin Williams. It’s just so sad.

I’ve been thinking this morning of a scene from the West Wing – not a Robin Williams, clip, obviously (my brain just went on a delightful tangent imagining how much Aaron Sorkin and Robin Williams would have probably hated each other), but because it’s one of my favorite depictions of the exact thing to say to help a friend who is hurting.

I’ve never suffered from depression, but it’s touched so many that I care about. I’m glad they feel empowered to seek treatment for it, to seek understanding, to take care of themselves.

Last year the CEO of my company got on an all employee call and, on a call reserved for earnings and stock and corporate strategy, she instead spoke bluntly about the recent suicide of her nephew, her own history with mental depression in her family, and how it has impacted and continues to impact her life. She then reminded her employees – all 3,500 of them – that they have access to health insurance, which includes tools for managing mental health, and they should use them as readily as they would use the insurance to treat high blood pressure or diabetes, that there is no stigma in treating your health conditions like a health condition just because it is mental health. And then she encouraged us to be kind to one another, because you never know what people are dealing with outside the walls of the office.

She was, in a very powerful way, telling an entire company that she’d been down there before, and she knew the way out.

There’s no good wrap up to a story like this – her leadership and message were extraordinary, and I hope it becomes common, and not prompted by personal experience with suicide.

It’s just all so sad.


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