Re-Entering the Workforce

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Categories Balance, How Do The Moms Do It, Lifestyle, Parenting, WorkingTags , 9 Comments

My last day in the corporate world was Friday, January 2, 2009, before my girls were born on Monday, January 5.  The game plan has always been that I would stay at home with the girls until they start kindergarten, in Fall 2014, at which time I hope to rejoin the workforce in a similar capacity to what I have always done.

This past fall, though, a couple of months before the girls’ fifth birthday, I was presented an opportunity to manage a long-term project for my former employer.  Estimated at 20 hours of work each week, the hours would be flexible.  I would work mostly from home, coming into the office for select meetings, as necessary.  I jumped at the chance to begin to ease back into the corporate world.

I’ve been clocking hours for the past couple of weeks.  So far it’s been both fantastic and challenging…with a few late nights and a dose of humor thrown in for good measure.

The Good

It’s been nothing short of invigorating to put on my business hat again.  I would never trade a day I’ve enjoyed with my girls over the past five years, nor do I want to wish away one second of the next few months before they start school in the fall.  I’ve relished my role as a stay-at-home-mom, but it’s been really energizing to step into a completely different role for a few hours.

The first time I opened my mouth and industry jargon flowed forth, I had to smile to myself.  I haven’t talked about product details and consumer shopping habits in ages…but those rivers run deep, I was reminded.

While I’m working on this project with a different department from where I used to work, it’s also been wonderful to run into a few of my former colleagues.  I’ve gotten some really delighted smiles and welcome back hugs, which has been so nice.

The Challenging

Re-entering the workforce after children from hdydi.comThe most challenging aspect of the past couple of weeks has been parts of the “work mostly from home” portion of the job description.  It’s true that I can do much of my work at any time, and I’ve been trying my best to consolidate that to before the girls’ wake-up time and after they’re in bed.  However, I’ve had a couple of conference calls to attend during the day, and that hasn’t always gone so smoothly.

During my first call, the girls were relatively well-behaved.  I did have to locate the mute button on my phone (which I’d never used before), but all in all, it went OK.

Since then, though, the girls have gotten a little more “brave”.  I cautioned them that only in the event of an emergency were they to interrupt me.  I forgot that “emergency” should have been more expressly defined to my five-year olds.  During my last call, I was interrupted for lip cream (chap stick) and for white drawer paper.  Afterwards, they explained to me,”…but I NEEDED chap stick!  My lips were chapped!”  Yup, that’s an emergency to a five-year old.

My girls don’t require me to interact with them 100% of the day, but I am usually pretty deliberate about saying, “Mommy will read one more book, and then I need to go make supper,” or, “When we finish this game, you can go upstairs and play while I make a phone call.”  The unscheduled interruptions are a relatively new thing for them.

We still have work to do in this area.

The Funny

I had to laugh at myself when I started combing my closet for appropriate business attire.  I found myself wondering if the tags from the cleaners had an expiration date.  Of the 20 or so pairs of slacks I have, most haven’t been touched in SIX YEARS (since I was wearing maternity clothes the winter before the girls were born).  While most of my pants are relatively classic (or that’s what I’m telling myself), I also had to laugh at the fit of a couple of pairs.  Um, I don’t think this will accomplish the has-it-all-together working mama look.

And then I laughed (to keep from crying) the first day I tried to wear heels for an extended period of time.  Since the girls were born, I’ve always said that I wore heels any chance I got…but in looking back, I realize those were very limited occasions.  Sure, I wore heels now and again out to eat, to a wedding, to a graduation…but I hadn’t had them on for a full six hours in many years.  I started off last Thursday, feeling professional and standing tall.  I did fine until I was rushing to pick the girls up from school…I stepped out of the car and tears came to my eyes.  I don’t know what happened, exactly, but my feet had had enough.  I limped into the preschool, but thank goodness I had some ballet flats in the car so I could make the drive home.

Lastly, I’ve laughed at the former colleagues who didn’t recognize me at all.  Granted, my hair hasn’t been this long since I graduated high school, and the last year before the girls were born, I wore glasses instead of contacts.  Oh, and I’ve lost about 60 pounds since I last graced the halls (during my about-to-pop last days of pregnancy).  Well…maybe I’ll grant them a pass, now that I think about that one.

Have you had any deja vu moments harkening back to your pre-baby days?  Have you re-entered the work force after some time away?  How did it go?  And [PLEASE!] tell me you have some magic to keep my kiddos at bay while I’m on the phone???

MandyE is mom to five-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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Summer Camp Makes Me Cry

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Categories Anger, Childcare, Fear, Frustration, Mommy Issues, Older Children, Products, Safety, School-Age, WorkingTags , , , , 5 Comments

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.

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To Work or Not to Work

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Categories Classroom Placement, Mommy Issues, WorkingTags , , , 7 Comments

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.

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The Stay-at-Home Dad

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Categories Childcare, Family, Relationships, WorkingTags , 4 Comments

Guest post from my husband, Brian, The Superdad.

If you are not familiar with our family, my wife Cynthia and I have four children: a four-year-old daughter Alaina, 20-month-old identical twins sons Aaron and Brady (baby A and baby B, anyone with multiples would get the ultra-sound humor in that decision) and a 6-month-old son Brett. Before Brett was born, we had the three older children in day care full-time. It was a financial stretch. Actually, financial “disaster” would be a better choice of words. Once the baby was born we had no option but to have one of us stop working. Now, Cynthia works full time and I am a stay at home dad. How did we come to that decision? For us it wasn’t that hard.

I own a small Real Estate company. By small I mean just me, (hey the boss is a great guy). As a Realtor most of my hours are nights and weekends anyhow so the decision to be the stay at home parent was easy. We have learned not to depend on my income like we did in the past. The adjustment required giving up many of the luxuries we honestly didn’t need anyway. The life changes we made were tough but in hind site they were the best decision we’ve ever made. Cynthia works for a great company and there is a tremendous opportunity for her professional growth within her company. Besides, her company was our source of health insurance so that had to weigh into our decision.

To be honest with you, I was a little nervous at first. Could I really do it? My wife is an amazing mother and as the father (and as most fathers do) I tended to follow her lead when it came to child rearing.  Like a lot of dads, I was the king of short, extreme play sessions with my kids. I would get down and dirty with them. Rolling around on the ground, rough-housing and tossing them up in the air. It was that little thing that they got only from their daddy and both the kids and I loved it. Sometimes it would last 5 minutes, other times maybe 30 minutes, but it was never for hours on end. The general care of the kids always fell on my wife’s shoulders. I didn’t realize how much she did until it was my responsibility all day, everyday. I have a tremendous appreciation of my wife and everything that she does for this family.

I distinctly remember my first taste of being an at-home dad. When they were about 3-months old, the twins were both out of daycare sick. Cynthia had just returned to work from maternity leave and could not take the day off. I was panic-stricken. I was a very hands-on dad but this was a different ballgame altogether. Only a few hours into the day of non-stop crying, I remember calling my wife at work freaking out that she had to come home. “I can’t do this!” I hollered. I was so used to passing off my own children when things went wrong that I didn’t know what to do when I was completely on my own. Needless to say I survived the day. The boys seemed fine too. But I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home dad after that experience.

So how did I manage it later on? Did the children change? Not one bit. I did. I took on a bigger every day role on the weekends. I stopped relying on my wife to do all the “dirty work” and I am not just talking about changing diapers. This prepared me for the big day when we would take them out of daycare and I was on my own. I am not going to tell you it was easy, or that everything came natural but it was manageable. After a week or two I was an old pro.

The key was routine. Guys, your wife probably preaches this to you every day. I was just like you. The weekend came around and I would take the kids out to do something fun, not caring if it was a little past their nap-time. “They’ll be fine,” I always said. Great call genius! Kids are all about routine. Break that routine and they may be fine for a few hours, but it will bite you in the end. It may not be until the next day but you will regret it. You learn fast on this job.

The second key change for me was patience. You learn quickly that you can’t satisfy all of your kids needs (especially when you have three under two years of age) at once. You have to prioritize. You have to learn to let the screaming bounce off of you. Focus on what you can do to make one of them happy. Move quickly without taking short cuts and move on to the next issue. After awhile you get to know each child’s tendencies and you can get them what they need before they need it. Once you’ve reached this point being an at-home parent is great.

Now don’t misread that. I didn’t say “easy”, I said “great”. It is the most rewarding job (and don’t kid yourself, it is a real job) albeit the toughest one I’ve ever had. Work stress and child caring stress are completely different. I also don’t want to belittle the working parent’s role. It’s a team effort. You should both try to appreciate what the other does.

I could tell you a million stories, but I have a short attention span and this post is already longer than I would voluntarily read. I do have a few parting bits of advice. I sensed a collective cringe when I wrote that. Fear not. I am not going to tell you how to raise your kids. To be honest I wouldn’t have the first clue how to raise someone’s kids. I can, however, give you a few tidbits that have made all the difference our arrangement:

1 – Get out of the house, for your own sanity if nothing else. I take the boys to a local children’s museum a couple times a week. We also go to story hour at the library and a playgroup at an area YMCA. Dig around a little, you can always ask other parents you meet what they do. Getting three little ones out of the house is a daunting task but there is a wonderful reward. Giving them a change of scenery is not only fun, but it always leads to a nice long nap for my kids. Hello “me” time.

2 – Appreciate your spouse. We are a well-oiled machine at this point. We both know what needs to be done each evening so we just do it. Don’t wait for your spouse to ask you to do what you know needs to be done. Just do it and next thing you know the kids will be asleep and you can finally relax. As a side note, everyone has a bad day. My wife and I give the other heads up on those especially tough days. Something as simple as, “just to warn you, it’s been a long day and I’m unusually cranky”. It’s simple yet effective.

3 – Try to create “me” time for each other. Take care of the kids solo so your wife can go out with her friends to lunch, shopping, or a movie. Whatever makes her happy. My wife plans to take half days on Wednesdays this summer so I can play golf. Don’t underestimate the meaning of little gestures.

4 – Get the kids on a schedule and stick to it. They may not like it at first but trust me long term you will all be better for it.

5 –Don’t let the little hiccups get you down. Look, things never go as planned.  If you can appreciate them for their future humor, you will be better for it. Just this morning I woke up sick as a dog to find Brady buck naked in his crib with you guessed it all over the mattress and crib. Was I in the mood to deal with “that” today? No chance. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hilarious. Why not laugh about it then?

6 – Enjoy your kids. Everyone you meet tells you to enjoy your children because they grow up quickly, but it’s true. The next thing you know they are going to be teenagers and want next to nothing to do with their parents. Keeping this in the back of your mind will help with those especially frustrating days. Always remember that they won’t be little forever so enjoy them.

For those out there contemplating being a stay-at-home parent. Do it. Don’t hesitate. In fact, you should jump at the opportunity. The first few weeks might be tough but you’ll find a way. I love that I get to see my kids everyday. My wife would love to be in my shoes (most of the time). Granted I am so tired by the end of the day that I have zero social life, but eventually they’ll grow up and I’ll have plenty of time to do that stuff again. You only get one chance to raise your kids.

I am a better person for it. You can ask any of our friends or family if I have changed and they would say with absolute certainty, yes! They don’t see me as much but when they do they notice that I am more relaxed. The little things that stressed me out before bounce right off me now. Just this past Sunday as we were stuck in traffic with the four kids in the car, instead of freaking out about the guy trying to cut me off, I turned to my wife and said, “I’m really happy. We have a great family, our relationship has never been better… things are great”. Pre-stay-at-home dad would never have said that. I am grateful for my amazing wife and beautiful children and I love them more than you can possibly imagine. Pre-stay-at-home dad would never had written that in a public blog either.

Now if you will excuse me. The boys are all asleep and the Yankees have a day game. Off to the couch I go with a cold beer in one hand and the other hand down my pants. I may have gotten a little softer, but hey, I’m still a dude!

(Mom’s edit: no beers were consumed during the writing of this post. I hope. You can read more about our family on our personal blog.)

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