Summer Camp Makes Me Cry

summercampOur school district has a 12-week summer vacation. I’m a single mom with a full-time job, so I have to find somewhere safe and fun for my 7-year-old daughters to spend the summer months. According to our divorce decree, my ex-husband is supposed to get 30 summer days with the kids when he’s stateside, but he had to decline that right this year, so arrangements for the entirety of the 12 weeks fell to me.

I pored over summer camp brochures. My kids qualified, academically, for the highly rated Summer Wonders program for gifted children, but the full-day program plus extended care (for two) was well outside my schedule requirements as well as my budget. I finally decided to go with a local YMCA program for 11 weeks and Girl Scout camp for 1 week and let the kids pick specific options.

A friend made all the transportation arrangements for Girl Scout camp and kept my daughters after camp until I got home from work that week. The paperwork was more than a little frustrating–why would a day camp require that I provide scans of the girls’ medical insurance cards?–but the kids had a fantastic time.

Most of the YMCA weeks were to be spent at a school location at one of their basic camps. Each of these basic camps has a weekly field trip, weekly swimming outing and fun activities all day, every day. The kids are obviously happy and well-cared for, and the counselors make sure that I knew the schedule, providing daily updates on a whiteboard, a printed schedule, and verbal reminders.

For a few weeks,  we elected to sign up for a few “special” camps: tumbling, cheer-leading, soccer and cooking. These camps last from 8 am to 1 pm. Outside these hours, kids can additionally register for full-day camp, and the YMCA staff is responsible for transitioning the kids from one program to the other.

Once the kids were actually at their special camps, they had a blast. The counselors were fantastic. J, being petite, got to participate in the most fun part of all sorts of cheerleading stunts. She’s a “flyer.” M couldn’t stop talking about her dribbling, defense and scoring skills.

The administrative side, though, was just horrendous. I thought that, once I’d filled out the forms, paid out my $400 deposit ($15 per week per child for 12 weeks plus some base deposit) and paid the first week’s tuition, things would go smoothly.

Not so.

In week one, I was the first one to mess up. I showed up to the school-based camp location instead of the specials place. One of the counselors made some calls to help me figure out where J and M should be. They were signed up for tumbling camp… except that they weren’t. I managed to register M and J on the spot for the school location and left them there while I tried to chase things down. As I said, the on-site staff, the people who actually deal with kids, are professional, accommodating, and infinitely helpful.

What had happened, it turns out, was that when I signed J and M up for tumbling camp (or perhaps when they got around to entering them into their system), the camp was full. So someone took the initiative to move my $30 deposit for the week to be a credit against another week of camp, without ever bothering to communicate the change to me, and effectively leaving me without childcare for that week. When I tried to point out that the appropriate, polite and professional thing to do would have been to inform and consult me, the manager simply said, “Well, I have no idea who did it. Jeff took your paperwork, but he would never do that. I can’t look up who did.”

Great. Thanks. That makes everything better. Obviously, my first impression of the “special” camps wasn’t fantastic. Neither was the second.

What I had gathered from the (incomplete) information on the YMCA website and from several conversations was that I could drop the girls off at the full-day location between 7 and 8 or bring them directly to their special camp at 8. On the first day, I decided on the latter. I easily located M’s soccer coach, signed her in, and began to seek J’s cheer instructor.

I asked for a location at the front desk. I was pointed to a room in the building. We went in and it was empty. It was 7:55. I called out, thinking that I was simply failing to see someone. There was no response. I went to the childcare program offices for help.

“We don’t run that program,” said the ever unhelpful Jeff. “You’ll have to ask at the front desk.”
“I already did,” I told him. “They told me to go to room X.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“There’s no one there.”
“Oh, you should take her down to the [location] for the full-day program.”
“Now?”
“Yeah.”

I loaded J into the car and went down the street to the full-day location. Drop-off was easy, and J and I made sure that the counselor knew that J was supposed to be going to cheer camp. I left, my heart easy. I knew Sophia, the woman running the full-day program, and I knew she’d make sure everything was ship-shape.

When I returned in the afternoon to pick up the girls, Sophia was there. “I was so surprised!” she said. “I came in around 9, and there was J! It was so nice to see her.”

That didn’t sound right. At 9:00, J should have been at cheer camp. I mentioned my confusion. Sophia looked at her paperwork and confirmed that J should have been taken to cheer. She promised to look into it. J told me that she’d repeatedly told her counselor that she was in the wrong place, but I imagine that the counselor is accustomed to the petulant and unrealistic demands of 7-year-olds.

Within 10 minutes of our leaving to drive home, Sophia called. She’d called a couple of people. She and her counselors had messed up, she told me. By the time J and I arrived that morning, the posse of kids destined for special programs had already left. I assured her that, while I appreciated her taking responsibility, there were plenty of others who had given us misinformation.

The next morning, we were there at 7:50. M’s drop-off with her soccer coaches went smoothly, but J’s was again problematic. I went to the classroom in question, and it was filled with serious looking types in suits. I again went to the front desk. I tried to express to the man there that I was seeking the cheer instructor, and he informed me that he wasn’t the person I should talk to. I asked who I should talk to. He told me that no one I should talk to was there yet. I asked who, among the people there, could help me locate my child’s coach. He finally gave me the phone number for the head of the program. I went back to my car to get my phone, called the number he’d given me, and left a message. She still hasn’t had the decency to return my call.

On the way back to the classroom (for the fourth time in 2 days), I ran into a friend whose daughter was also in cheer camp. They’d be meeting in the grass that morning because of the meeting taking place in their regular location, she told me. By the time we found them, the other kids were in a circle, stretching with the coach. A woman–Carrie? Casey? I’m ashamed to say I was too upset to have retained her name–asked if I would like to sign J in. No, I told her. I wanted to talk to her.

I told her the whole story. By the time I was half way through, I was sobbing. I told her that I was entrusting her organization with the care of my children, and their behaviour wasn’t filling me with confidence. I trusted Sophia, I told her, to make sure that my kids were safe. She’d earned my trust over months of consistent communication, thoughtful and gentle discipline, and excellent time management. Sophia knew and cared for my kids. I hadn’t gotten an impression of caring from the other administrative staff. The not-my-problem attitude wasn’t winning any brownie points.

Carrie (?) looked into the whole tumbling fiasco. She took a screenshot of the oddball transactions and put it on the accounts manager’s desk for him to investigate. She explained to me that getting full-day kids to their special camps was the responsibility of the full-day counselors. I told her that I had already spoken to Sophia and worked out that part of it. I did ask her why, when J was missing yesterday, I didn’t receive a call to tell that she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. A lot of kids, it turns out, just never show up, so they don’t bother calling no shows. I recommended that the two programs get on the same page about what should be done with kids who arrive in that grey time between 7:50 and 8:00. Parents would understand, I assured her, if we needed to stay 10 minutes. Just tell us that instead of sending us on wild goose chases.

Sophia called me later that morning to check in. I assured her that I felt that she’d done what she could. I let her know, though, that a coworker of mine said that he’d had similar issues at the location 15+ years ago. It was time to fix some things. She listened to my recommendations and promised to follow up. She even thanked me for giving her a parent’s perspective.

  • Assign a person who is physically present to be in charge of parent communication at all times throughout the day, and make sure that all staff members know who that person is.
  • Coordinate between programs so that managers know where children should be taken at what time.
  • Provide clear and consistent expectations for drop-off times and locations to all employees and train them on answering questions with patience and a sense of ownership of the problem.
  • Send email or written confirmation of registration records to ensure that parents have the same impression as the YMCA of their child’s schedule.
  • Along with written confirmation of registration, send parents a list of assumptions. Who is responsible for our child at different points in the day? Where, precisely, are we supposed to go to drop them off and pick them up? What should they bring with them?
  • Train data entry staff on appropriate handling of unusual cases or insist that they check with a manager before making modifications.

Honestly, I don’t have much confidence that they’ll fix anything. I’ll just have to trust that Sophia will notice even if everyone else loses track of my children. And this will be our last year of turning to the Y for special camps.

Edit: June 26, 2013, 11 pm CDT – Things got worse today. Read on.

Decision Made

Well, it’s been decided. Not in a definitive moment of inspired epiphany kind of way, instead a slow but sure realization that there wasn’t ever any other option. Who was I kidding? (Myself.) There is no long-term way that we would be happy living on one income in Los Angeles, especially now with three children who are only going to get more expensive as they require activities and demand stuff. And by no means do we spoil our kids, but we don’t want them wanting for anything if we are able to provide it.

So there it is. Decision made. I will go back to work for the next school year, continue my career, strive to impact the lives of young people, and hopefully sock away money for the enough-bedrooms-for-everyone next house.

To be really honest though, I’m not sure I was ready for the uncertainty of taking a few years’ break from my career. As a teacher, my job is comparatively secure. There have been layoffs in my profession in recent years, but it’s not nearly as bad as in others. However, I currently have 10 years in my district, which represents a pretty solid seniority ranking– one I would lose if I left and started working in a different district in the future, not to mention a loss in pay as well for basically starting over. And even if we are able to afford me staying at home full time in the future, am I really ready to completely let go of my career? What will I do when my children all go to school?

I do even look forward to time away from my kids. Not that I don’t love being at home with them, but I do need some time to myself, time that isn’t precariously contingent upon nap schedules and baby mood swings. I can get up in the morning, shower, get dressed, and go on my way like a normal person. I can interact with people who are over the age of 3. I can have an intelligent conversation with someone who isn’t my husband or a mommy friend. And then I can run home and enjoy my more-precious children at the 3pm bell.

But that’s not to say this isn’t a heart wrenching decision that comes with its own dilemmas. I will need to not only part with my 3 year old every morning, but also two more kids who will by then be in the throes of separation anxiety. Their lives will drastically change after almost 9 months of Mommy-all-the-time. What the heck, my life will drastically change and I will suffer baby withdrawals. No more mid-morning trip to the park, afternoon visit to the library, or classes with Toddler. And it will be the end of naps for Mama. No more break while the kids are all taking their midday nap. I will be gone for the relatively easy naps/feeds/happy children during the day but retain the craziness of getting out the door in the morning and dinner/bedtime/cranky children in the evening. All while putting in a full day of work. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

And I haven’t exactly locked down where Toddler will be going to school come fall. We’ve decided she is definitely ready for more structured socialization, but the preschool hunt has turned up nothing spectacular. My requirement of Chinese instruction is what really holds us back, but that is also the one thing I cannot compromise.

Nor have I really figured out what to do with the twins. My mom has been coming to take over one feeding with the babies two mornings a week while I spend time alone with Toddler. She does great with them, and I always come home to well-fed and back-asleep babies. But she’s only here 3 hours, and they’re napping for almost half of that time. She’s an aging grandma with her own ailments, and I think caring for crawling-in-different-directions twins might break her. Ideally we’d have the exact same setup as with Toddler: Drop them off at her house in the morning, drive 5 minutes to work, and pick them up 10 minutes after the last class. But schlepping two around this time, with stuff for two, up and down stairs with two, two additional cribs, highchairs, two everything… and picking up Toddler somewhere along the way, that’s just daunting. So maybe she will need to come to my house? Maybe I will need to hire an additional helper? Maybe I need a nanny instead?

I am very anxious that this isn’t all worked out by now.

So, it is ultimately with a heavy heart that I will be going to be back to my classroom in a matter of weeks, unpacking boxes from cabinets, putting up bulletin boards, and preparing to meet the 120+ teenagers who it will be my job to mold this year. Maybe I can reassess next spring…

lunchldyd is a high school teacher and mom to 3 kids 3 and under.

The Online Mother of Multiples Club

I didn’t seek out mother of multiples clubs when I was pregnant. It never even occurred to me that such a thing existed. However, I had a fortuitous run-in at my daughters’ very first pediatric visit, the day after J was released from the NICU, 22 days old. I was stopped on the way to the examination room by a mother, Laura, who told me that she had twin boys, and would I be interested in joining her mothers of multiples club? It was a small one, limited to the suburb in which we lived. There were fewer than 20 moms in the group. I gave her my contact information, and found myself attending the next meeting.

These women were incredibly nice. One of them, Kara, was tandem nursing her one-year-olds. Formula had never touched their lips. She was an inspiration to me throughout my efforts to breastfeed my girls.

The problem, though, was that I was the only woman in the group with a full-time job. The group’s activities that included kids were all held during the day, on weekdays. They didn’t have any weekend activities; they wanted to spend that time together as a family with their husbands. The monthly weekday evening meetings were child-free. They were intended to be a chance for a bunch of girlfriends to leave their kids with their husbands and get a night off. That worked for me for a couple of months, but then my husband deployed to Iraq when our babies were 5 months old.

I couldn’t quite see my way to hiring a babysitter when I was already away from my daughters 11 hours every day. I maintained friendships with individual members of the group by email. I volunteered to manage the membership records. I couldn’t really attend any events, though.

My “real” participation was limited to the annual family-inclusive potluck picnic. I was the only one at the picnic without a husband. (Since then, three of us have gotten divorced and one has remarried.) It was a great time, though. When I got up from my hotdog to give my girls their bottles, their having rejected the breast months earlier, Kara asked me to hand her a baby. We each fed a child with one hand, feeding ourselves with the other, while she watched her three kids run in the grass. I was dumbfounded. With the exception of my dear friends Sara, whose son was 14 days younger than mine and whose husband had deployed with with mine, and Kaylan, who was living with us, my friends were generally terrified by my children. I hardly knew what to do with this cool, collected and well-coiffed mother who was clearly comfortable handling an undersize baby or two.

I tried reaching out to the much larger mothers of multiples group that served the greater Austin area, but never received a response to my queries. I looked at their meeting schedule, and sure enough, kid-friendly activities were during work hours. Kids weren’t welcome at after-hours events. I was a little miffed, but figured that I had a pretty great support network through work, plus the gifts of Sara and Kaylan.

This whole time, I’d been blogging, trying to provide a place for our relatives around the world, including Daddy in Iraq, to keep up with what M and J were up to. There were lots of photos and here’s-what-we-did-today posts. One day, I clicked a link in a moms’ forum to The Busy Dad Blog. I don’t even remember what post it was, but it had me in stitches and I left a comment. On a whim, I linked my name to my little family-and-friends mommy blog.

Community surrounds usFrom that teeny little comment, people–complete strangers–started visiting my dinky little blog. People starting commenting. I clicked to their sites. I discovered this entire culture of mommy blogging. (Sorry, Jim, but I consider you a mommy blogger; if there were more daddy bloggers like you around, I’d probably graduate to “parent blogger,” but there you have it.) Before long, I was finding my parenting deeply impacted and greatly improved by the observations and recommendations of the likes of LauraC, Goddess in Progress, and Momo Fali. LauraC’s extraordinary boys, Nate and Alex, are only 6 days younger than my daughters, she works full-time, and her husband travels for work. There’s no one else I’d come across who seemed to understand my day-to-day reality better.

Tracey is reading to our two sets of twins.I discovered LauraC and Goddess in Progress right here at How Do You Do It? I’ve since met HDYDI’s LauraC and Reanbean in real life. Goddess and I can somehow never quite make it to the same place at the same time, although we’ve tried. I’ve become close friends with Tracey, also a former blogger at HDYDI. Our families have even spent Christmas together, although her boys can no more tell my girls apart than my girls can distinguish them. It doesn’t seem to negatively impact their play.

My virtual mothers of multiples club online has helped me get through potty training, the Terrible (Horrible Awful Monstrous) Threes, deployment after deployment, school decisions and, most recently, divorce. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t experience online relationships like these how much these people, most of whom I will never meet face-to-face, mean to me. I’ll never be able to repay what I owe them.

Traditional mother of multiples clubs haven’t quite worked out for me, but the blogosphere? That’s my club. Online parenting support has been priceless. My daughters are better off for the community of thoughtful parents who’ve shaped how they’re raised.

Thanks to MarisaB and RebeccaD for kicking off this conversation.

Summer Vacation? What Summer Vacation?

I have a variety of mommy–or rather parent–friends. I’m a single working mom of twins, but the families my daughters and I spend time with run the gamut from large home-schooling ones to two-income families with one child.

When we moved back to Central Texas last August after a year living in El Paso, we reconnected with old friends and also made a number of new ones in our new neighbourhood and at J and M’s school. The majority of these new mommy friends are either stay-at-home moms or teachers. Another friend with whom we try to spend as much time as possible is going to college. All their routines change drastically during the summer. No school, no work.

As the kids’ school year drew to a close, people’s excitement was palpable. Mom after mom talked about the plans they had in place to entertain and educate their kids during the summer. They proposed fun and exciting events and activities. One mom is even going to host Spanish language activities for five kids, including my daughters, so that they don’t lose the huge leaps in Spanish fluency they’ve made this year in dual language first grade.

Although I work at a university, my work schedule is not impacted by the academic calendar. I need full-day childcare for my daughters when they’re not in school. When they were littler and in daycare, our summer routine was no different than the rest of the year’s. Now that they’re in school, I replace after-school care with summer camps.

A letter from J describing her first day of Girl Scout camp

Our old friends quickly learned that our social calendar was limited to weekend activities. After all, I went back to work when M and J were 11 weeks old. Our new friends are learning this now. Just yesterday, I had to turn down two invitations for midweek play dates. I’ll still be at work at the times my friends proposed. A couple of times, we’ve been invited to weeknight events; my daughters’ friends can sleep in the next day, but my girls have to be dropped off early so I can be at work on time.

A complication in our attempts to schedule play dates is that my daughters have a number of friends who, like them, have divorced parents. Birds of a feather, you know. M and J’s dad lives in North Carolina, and we’re in Texas. He sees them when he can. Many of the girls’ friends spend alternate weekends with their dads, and I’m friends with the moms. On the Daddy weekends, none of the girls’ “divorced” friends are open for play dates.

My daughters’ routine gets switched up during summer vacation, but mine remains the same.

Does summer bring a marked change to your family’s routine? Do your kids’ social calendars put yours to shame?

Can Multiples Moms Have it All?

Can Multiples’ Moms Have it All?

This is a loaded question. It really depends on what your “all” represents and I think each mom’s opinion of having it all is going to vary.

Having it all to me, in a dream world, would be having enough money to not worry about how to make ends meet, how to pay for extracurricular activities or for special things or healthcare costs, how to get kids to school on time and also make it to work in enough time to sit at my desk and sip my coffee, while I calmly get ready to start my day.

Notice I said “make it to work”? As a woman, I value the opportunity to go to work, to think about things outside of mommyhood, to do my thing and hopefully help those that I work with in a social services environment. At work I get to put on my thinking cap and think about adult issues and problems. Even if I had all the money in the world, I would still take some time away from the hectic life of being a mom.

When I am not at work 9-5, I am at home with my kids. We get a few hours together before its bedtime, which sometimes bothers me and I think I’d like to be at home more with them, and then one starts screaming at the top of his lungs or wailing on a brother and then I think…maybe not! I figure I do have vacation time and a dependable income, which in the long run means I can plan fun times and take time off to spend more time with them throughout the year. I just have to plan my time with my kids a bit more than a mom who stays at home with their kids full time. I really do enjoy the balance of home life and work life.

I think if you want certain things in life you have to go after them. As mothers it can be very easy to find reasons to put things off when it comes to our own needs. We have to learn to prioritize and compromise on our needs and our personal values. You need to set goals to achieve your dreams of having it all, as well as have realistic expectations of attaining them. The best way to do this is to talk to our partners and let them know what we need out of life and check in with them to find out what they’re thinking, planning and needing as well. As a mother, if you’re tired and feeling burnt out, then you have to ask for help. I’ve been there. Completely exhausted and trying to figure out what to focus on and when. It’s so important to ask for help when you need it because it will do wonders for your sanity and long term happiness.

Yes, there will always be bumps in the road and sometimes things will not go according to plan, so it’s always important to have a Plan B, regroup and sometimes reprioritize in order to have your “all.”

Carolyn is a full time employment counsellor working for a not-for-profit social services agency in Canada. She has 3 young boys–a 5 year old singleton and 3 year old twins. You can find more of Carolyn’s thoughts about parenting, twins and prematurity awareness at Twintrospectives.

Whirlwind Schedule

If you’re anything like me, things start to whirl out of control at this time of year. Here in the US, the school year is winding down, and the end-of-school events are ramping up. Between recitals and dress rehearsals (dance and piano), awards ceremonies, talent shows, birthday parties, selecting summer camp programs, and the school cultural celebration, I’m feeling a little frayed at the edges.

The fact that J and M’s birthday is next month just adds insult to injury. I confess that, while we’ve decided on a time, location, and theme for their party, I have made no headway toward making invitations or finalizing the guest list.

I am, as my daughter M once put it, “overwheeled.” She says “overwhelmed” now, but “overwheeled” is up there with “lellow” for “yellow” and “yosen” for “used” in my favourite J-and-Misms. (She just looked over my shoulder and informed me that I spelled “favourite” wrong and should “spell it American.” I figure letting my daughters watch and participate in my writing process can’t be a bad thing for anyone.)

I’m not too proud to ask for help when I need it. A huge part of the reason that I hurried back to Central Texas after my divorce was to return to the amazingly supportive community that I am part of. The stuff on my plate right now, however, can’t be outsourced. I need to be the one making sure I get ballet costume photos taken for Grammy and Grampy. Only I can make modifications to my work schedule to get to all these events on time. It’s up to me to make the display on Bangladesh for the event celebrating diversity at our school.

For the next month or so, I need to go into get-it-done mode. There will be less sleep for me. I’ll be working through all my lunch breaks. I’m going to have to figure out each day’s schedule at the beginning of the week. No flying by the seat of my pants for me. This will be a month of checklists and spreadsheets and schedules.

It’s going to be a great month and will leave us with a ton of great memories, but I am looking forward to June.

How do you handle the crazy times?

For those of you with infants right now, how does it feel to hear how completely I’ve managed to forget the feats of juggling I was capable of when my littles were truly little?

Sadia, her twin daughters J and M, and the family cats overextend themselves in the Austin, TX area. Sadia is a recently divorced single mom and works full time in higher education information technology.

Balancing Work, Home, and Mommy Guilt

Working fulltime with two little ones at home is proving more difficult than expected. It’s been 8 months now since returning to work after extended leave, and I thought we had it all figured out. One thing we didn’t factor in was how busy and challenging my job had become in two years.

We’re doing everything right, or so it seems. Mr. Mama and I take turns cooking and we have someone coming in to clean the house twice a month. Mr. Mama does most of the daycare pickups and dropoffs while I help him get the kids out of the house. We tag team during mealtimes, bathtime and bedtime. We even have extra help from the Grandparents once a week and on the weekends.

Our morning routine is consistent. I usually wake up first to get ready for work and make breakfast. Then I get Little Mister and Little Missy, chang them and start on breakfast while Mr. Mama gets ready. In the evenings, I’m home 10 minutes before the twins which is enough time to warm up dinner. Then follows bathtime and an early bed.

Other things I do to save time and energy: pack my lunch 2 days ahead, write down daily priorities at work, write up weekly “To Do” list at home, set out the twins clothes for the week and set out my clothes for the week. Despite all that, we never see the neighbours, let alone our friends, and barely have time to catch up on the rest of the life.

As another twin mom put it, every day is organized chaos. I know this is for a short time only because the kids are so young. But that’s the sad part! Every day they seem to grow an inch and learn things at an exponential rate. And I’m too tired right now to enjoy it. That, my friends, is mommy-guilt. How do you manage yours?

Ambereen, mom to 2 year old B/G twins, is constantly striving to find some form of balance between all the aspects of their busy lives. Read more on her personal blog.

Can Moms of Multiples Have It All?!?

Something I have considered from seemingly every angle before getting pregnant was whether or not I’d want to return to work after having kids. I forwarded Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” (The Atlantic) to my working mom friends, or friends of child-bearing age, followed the Yahoo CEO story closely and am looking forward to reading Lean In when time allows.  Love these discussions, whether I’m talking to a SAHM or a single woman who never sees themselves having kids.  Now that I’m pregnant, it feels like I’m admitting to a crime when I say that, while I can discuss my opinions about maternity leave pay in our country, or gender-specific expectations around child-rearing, etc, etc, the deep down truth is that I always wanted to work after kids (and still want to return).

Of course, an angle I didn’t quite consider is that I might have twins, and have the daycare costs for twin infants, the emotional impact of leaving behind TWO infants and perhaps double the sleep deprivation to contend with in the early days back at my desk. When we started trying to have kids, I was in a very stressful, unhealthy work environment, and it only took about six unsuccessful months of trying for me to question whether my stress level was impacting my fertility. I started looking for jobs elsewhere, took a pay cut and began my work in an area in which I was less passionate, but allowed me to get out to the increasingly frequent reproductive endocrinologist’s appointments and take more time for myself.

I felt guilty taking a new job, knowing that we were actively trying to get pregnant, and decided to tell my boss about our fertility treatments early on. I do recall her giving her support, as long as I was planning on returning to work. (Of course, this was probably unnecessary, as it still took another 8 months to get pregnant.) While I occasionally miss some of the more passion-driven days at my old job, I definitely have settled into a new role where I can do things like (ahem!) write blog posts in my down time and relish waking up a little later and still having time to do yoga before work. Upon finding out I was expecting two babies, some questions started popping into my head: If this doubles the cost of daycare, is it worth it to still work? If we break even with my salary and day care, is it STILL worth it? I don’t know any moms of twins in my life who returned 5 days per week (well, ones without ample help). Am I crazy for considering this? Will weekends and minimal time at night during the week feel like enough time with my little ones?

I have always worked two jobs. Like, for the last 14 years. (Don’t worry-I only have three weeks left of job number two, and will only be returning to one after the babies arrive.) While I absolutely strive to maintain other parts of my identity (artist, aspiring chef, yoga enthusiast, world traveler, wife in a healthy marriage) other than employee, I am not going to lie: I enjoy working full-time, being needed in a work place, and possibly most importantly, feeling part of a community, both in the sense of working people in the world, and also in my small non-profit. I decided to commit to returning full-time, taking comfort in the fact that I now have a VERY short commute, have found a nanny who is amazing, and have a very laid-back work environment.

In the eight weeks or so since I announced that I’m pregnant at work, my boss has resigned (the head honcho of our agency) and more recently, the chairperson of the board that oversees our whole agency announced his plans to step down. My perfectly-laid plan of returning to a stress-free environment seems to be crumbling before my eyes. I’ve questioned whether I may want to apply for said head honcho role, to ensure the laid-back attitude prevails. And I’ve questioned whether I will be able to get through if someone new is hired who cracks the whip a little more… Yes, of course, another lesson in, (big shocker here) things I cannot control! I feel pretty certain I’ll return either way and see how things go…

I realize there are previous HDYDI blog posts on working moms. I’d love to hear from working moms, especially those in leadership roles, who have thoughts about returning to work after 12 weeks off.

To Work or Not to Work

Ever since the thought of having children crossed my mind when I was a child myself, it always seemed a given to me that when I did, I would stay at home and take care of them. My mom was a stay-at-home mother, and her mother before her, and I never thought to question it.

Fast forward 20 years or so to the birth of my first, and this all of a sudden was not so clear cut. I’d had a career. I was 7 years into teaching. I was a professional, I liked (if not loved at times) my job, and it was a large part of my identity. But that sort of clashed with my new identity as a mother, which for me trumped everything else. So I questioned what I would become.

A working mom, like so many of our generation? One who bundles up the child(ren) in a mad dash out the door each morning only to see them for a couple of hours each night? One who pays a good amount of her salary to daycare and wonders whether her child is being treated right? For a type-A personality like mine, this was hard to stomach. For the overprotective mother I was quickly becoming (who isn’t with their firstborn?), this seemed an impossibility.

But what about the lifestyle to which we were so accustomed? The mortgage and car payments, the Amazon shopping and eating out. Not to mention the place I had made for myself at my school, in my classroom, with my students.

Fortunately, my daughter was born in May, so maternity leave ran through the end of that school year, and I had all summer to stay at home with her. I worked out a plan to convince my mom to drop her work down to part time (I would compensate for the pay decrease) to watch my daughter while I was at work. She is the only person I trust with my children for any extended period of time, does not act like a grandparent (doesn’t cave to requests for cookies), and comes with the added benefit of speaking only Mandarin. So my daughter went to Grandma’s at 3.5 months, right when she began to reliably sleep through the night. She’s gotten good food, daily love and discipline, and is now fully bilingual. And I’ve gotten every afternoon and all holidays with her (which are pretty numerous as a teacher). It’s worked out great for 2.5 years.

Now, our daughter has a set of siblings, 11 weeks old. Three children under 3. This impossible decision is upon us again. I have already decided to take the rest of the school year off. That part is not in question. There is no way I would have left my twins after 8 weeks of maternity when my firstborn singleton got 3.5 months.

In fact it’s hard to imagine leaving them at all. As it is they are getting one third the attention our firstborn got. And though I am “off work” at 3pm daily, by then I’ve already had a full day of 5 classes, creating lessons, grading papers, and managing teenagers. To take on 3 kids after that may just break the camel’s back. Not to mention how an aging grandmother is supposed to handle them all…

But then again is the mortgage, the car payments (I’ve caved and accepted the fact that we will need a minivan sooner rather than later), the lifestyle we like to live, the TWO ADDITIONAL members of the family to support, and our future dreams to consider. Can we, do we want to, make the financial sacrifices necessary? Am I comfortable putting my career on hold, and if so for how long? The husband says he will support whatever decision I make, but I know that he is terrified of being the only wage earner in our family. Am I being selfish in not wanting to miss out on my children’s babyhood?

What to decide? I have until the end of the school year to do so, before the contracts for next year are signed. I’m hoping by then I will have either fallen in love with the life of parks and playdates, or can’t wait to get back to work.

lunchldyd is a mom to an almost 3 yr old daughter and her 11 week old twin brother and sister. She is also a high school teacher. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, 3 children under 3, and two neglected dogs.

Trust

I recently had to take an emergency trip from my home in Texas to London, where I was needed to help care for my 2-year-old nephew. A co-worker pointed out that this went against the norm. It’s normally the UK that exports its nannies to the US, he said.

It didn’t make sense to bring my daughters with me, financially or practically. I didn’t want them to miss school. We wouldn’t even get to see London because I was going to have to focus on my nephew. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to get them passports in time. I cut it close with my own passport as it was. It had expired, but, fortunately, I fell within the criteria for an emergency travel credential, a passport substitute, good for this trip only. I drove 300+ miles roundtrip while my first graders were at school to obtain it.

I had to figure out how my daughters would be cared for while I was away. Their father lives 600 miles away and wasn’t going to be available. I don’t have any family nearby. What I do have is the village that it takes to raise a child, the people who are more family than family. These are the people who love J and M nearly as much as I do, from choice, not obligation.

I sent out two text messages, one to our babysitter Angie, and one to our former neighbour Heidi.

Angie used to teach at the daycare J and M attended for over 4 years. She’s known the girls for over half their lives, and is a trained childcare provider. She’s creative, funny, and affectionate, but doesn’t accept any disobedience or lack of discipline.

Heidi’s daughter is two months younger than my girls, to the day, and our girls have grown up like sisters, at least sisters where one sister can’t tell the other two apart. Heidi used to be the person I’d call if the girls wanted to play outside while I was in the middle of cooking dinner. As early as age 3, I knew I could trust them to go out the front door by themselves as long as Heidi knew they were out. I’d just usually end up stretching dinner to feed both families. I taught Heidi’s daughter how to bake, and she taught mine how to navigate the swampy area behind our first home. All 3 girls have known all their lives to listen to both sets of parents as if they were their own, and that the different rules of each house started at the edge of lawn and extended from the sidewalk to the back yard.

Both Angie and Heidi immediately said they could help care for the girls whiIe I was away. I went with Angie, because she could come and stay at our house with the kids, minimizing the disruption, avoiding the packing, and saving me having to find someone else to feed the cats and discipline the kitten. Her nannying schedule worked out to be a perfect complement to the girls’ school and after school care times.

I didn’t just want a babysitter for the kids, someone who would just ensure that they were safe and on schedule. I wanted someone who could fill in as Mom while I was away. Someone who would address their concerns about my absence openly and completely. Someone who wouldn’t take shortcuts to get through the evening, but would instead carry forward the work of raising the girls, discussing the choices they’d made during the day, challenging them to be responsible, building their confidence while emphasizing humility. What a gift to have two such people actually available to us on a week’s notice! There are still others in our community who would have gladly done it, had their work or childcare obligations allowed.

While I was in London, I videoconferenced with the girls on Skype every day, some days twice. I could tell that they were comfortable and happy. Their smiles were genuine, their stories from their day those of typical 6-year-olds, and their trust in Angie palpable. A couple of times, they had worries to discuss with me, but for the most part they wanted to hear about my day, be silly with their cousin, and confirm that I was okay before getting back to their busy lives of art projects and games of pretend.

Angie was the first person I gave a key to my home to after I bought it. There is nothing more precious to me than my children. I’d never leave my kids with someone I wouldn’t trust with my house keys. Anyone I can trust with them, I can trust with all that I own. After all, I’m trusting them with my life.

 

Sadia lives with her 6-year-old daughters in the greater Austin, Texas area. Her trip to London was her first to her home country in over a decade. She was too busy with a toddler and bureaucracy to see much of London.  Still, she was reminded that snow needn’t be too deep to crunch underfoot, that people walk on the left there, and that British biscuits are a far superior comfort food to American cookies. She heard a lot more Portuguese and Spanish than was spoken in London in her childhood, and was happy to learn that 11 years had put no dent in her closeness to her cousins or closest college buddy.