Working Mama

The moment I met my daughter. 
I am blessed to have a job that is flexible. My manager and my colleagues are understanding, and no one is standing at the door waiting for me to clock in. I have a very generous window of time where it is acceptable for me to arrive at work, and I'm able to work from home when necessary. I can't imagine not having this flexibility, and I know that it puts me in a position of privilege. Many moms who work are punching a clock and aren't given the latitude or respect that I'm granted. And even with my excellent arrangement, it's still really, really hard to be a working mama.

I am in a position of having it all, in some ways, except for when I don't. I miss my girl, and I wish I could be with her more. I give up freelance gigs, opportunities to travel to attend conferences, and after-work happy hours to be able to get home to her, which might impact my career. In trying to have the best of everything, I have half-assed attempts at a few things. At this point, though, this is the best I can do. Staying home full time isn't an option for our family financially, and I do like my career.

I know that the school our daughter attends is good, and she is learning a lot from being there. Some days, though, are so frustrating, and I feel torn in trying to be the best mom and the best content strategist I can be. My daughter deserves nothing less than the best mama in the whole world. I want to do well in my career, which is in an exciting field, and I believe that I'm smart and talented enough to hang with the best of the best. Right now, though, my attention is divided, and I don't see an end in sight.

On a normal day, I get up in the morning, and I spend some time in bed with my baby girl. She likes to nurse awhile and then play around in the bed, and most of the time, we take a few minutes together before getting up.

I try to jog in the mornings, too, so sometimes, I dress myself in jogging clothes before I dress her for the day. Other days, I go straight to work, so I dress in my grown-up clothes and put on makeup. She sits on the bed and plays with the iPad, or she follows me around while I get dressed and talks to me. On hard days, she cries for me to hold her, and I explain that I can't because I have to go to work.

Sometimes, I'll take her jogging with me in the stroller, but most of the time, I drop her off at her daycare before I go for my run. I kiss her goodbye, and she spends the bulk of the day with her teachers and friends. I spend the day with my colleagues, working. I can see her daycare from my office window, and I look through binoculars at her playground when she's outside, watching her toddle and play with the other children. I love to see her, but my heart breaks to play with her.

I used to go visit her faithfully on my lunch breaks, but after a few weeks of not being able to come regularly, we have lost the rhythm of those lunch time visits. The last time I went to see her at lunch, it was very upsetting for her when I had to drop her back off. I probably won't go again because it isn't good for her, even though it brightens my day.

At the end of the day, I pick our daughter up, and we talk in the car on the way home. When we arrive, she usually wants to nurse and snuggle for awhile, and then we begin the evening routine of making dinner, packing lunches and bags for the next day, playing a little together, getting a bath, and getting ready for bed. It feels like a grind most of the time. When friends call and ask if I can go out, the answer is usually "No." In fact, I usually am not able to answer the phone to say, "No." I'm barely hanging on to the working gig and the mama gig...the wife gig and the friend gig has taken a beating in the meantime.

I attended the Event Apart conference in San Francisco last fall. It was a great experience, but it was hard to decide what to do about my family. The company I worked for paid my expenses, and my options were to go alone or to foot the bill for my husband and daughter to come. We opted for the latter, as Eva still likes to nurse to sleep, and I didn't feel ready to be away from her for that long. So we spent a couple thousand dollars on plane tickets, meals, and more to make it possible for us to all go. It was a lovely trip (although traveling across the country with a toddler on a plane was certainly challenging), and I'm glad we went. I learned a lot, and my family had a good time.

One morning, I took the baby down to the conference-provided breakfast with me to give my husband a chance to get dressed and have a little time alone before I went to the conference for the day, leaving him in charge of entertaining our daughter. She was (obviously) not a registered guest of the conference, but the buffet was plentiful, so I thought it wouldn't be a problem for her to sit in my laps and eat a couple of grapes while I had breakfast and chatted with other UX folks about our discipline. My daughter was great, sitting quietly and watching me talk while nibbling on the fruit in my plate.

One of the representatives of the conference came into the breakfast room and told me I'd have to leave. She said that the baby couldn't come into the breakfast room. When I assured her that the baby wouldn't eat much, thinking that her beef was with the food, she told me that it was a safety concern...that the baby might get trampled.

It was 7:30 in the morning before the conference started at 9:30. While I know a group of developers, designers and content strategists can get pretty wild, the crowd was rather small, so her concern seemed unwarranted. A colleague told me later that she'd heard the woman grumbling about how she couldn't believe someone was "sneaking" a child into the breakfast hall, so I think her concern was about something else. I'm not sure what, though. My daughter was not disruptive. There was no threat to her safety. The cost of the handful of grapes she ate was surely covered by my conference fees.

What I took away from that situation, though, was that there are blockades to working mamas who want to be on the cutting edge of their careers while practicing intense, intimate mothering. No matter how good you get it and now matter how hard you try to get it right, it's never quite right.

I can't imagine a solution to this problem. Flexible work arrangements are great. More flexibility would be even greater. Understanding by folks like that grumpy conference organizer would be helpful. More affordable childcare options...more open work environments that welcome children...longer-term maternity leave with more reasonable compensation...I don't know.

Like I said, I know I've got it good...but I want to have it better on all fronts. And today, it's not possible, and that makes me sad.


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