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How parenthood changed my thoughts on family

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We spent the holidays with my family in Utah and had ourselves a jolly-good time, but then three days after Christmas my grandfather died in a car crash on his way to the volunteer job he’d been doing several times a week for thirty years (THIRTY YEARS) and, well, it wasn’t a very happy New Year after all. (My mom took that tack of greeting family members with a cheer of “Crappy New Year, huh?” and everyone nodded in solemn agreement.)

My little family of three (and one-third) were originally supposed to fly back to California on the day after the accident, but we ended up extending our stay by five days (for a total of thirteen) so we could be there for the funeral. It wasn’t the greatest of trips–in addition to the grief and the harried logistics of funeral planning, we weren’t prepared for that much time away, and I spent most of those extra five days working–but it wasn’t all bad, and if I may take a break from talking about work here, I’d like to share a few things I learned about parenthood, parents, and grandparents.
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The sick pregnant woman at work

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Me at work, a few months before I got pregnant the first time.The first time I got pregnant, I sailed through the first trimester with very few symptoms and very little trouble hiding my growing belly behind flowy tops and a sturdy desk piled high with manuscripts and granola bar wrappers. At thirteen weeks, after my NT scan said all was well, I took a little printout of an ultrasound image and shared it with a few coworkers (who then took care of making sure everyone else at the company heard the news), and the rest is history–and, as these things go, a largely uneventful history at that.

I had an easy and, dare I say, pleasant pregnancy, and aside from the crushing (or rather, spreading) rib pain there at the end, it was pretty much business as usual for me during all nine months, the only notable changes being extra snacks, extra trips to the bathroom, and extra inches on my waistline (and thigh line and butt line and boob line). This time around I feel a little sick now and then, nothing serious, but I’m really grateful to be working from home simply because the appearance of maternity pants at seven and a half weeks would have given me away before I was ready.

(Before the lucky three-month mark, I decide whom to tell based on whether I’d want to discuss a miscarriage with that person. The Internet? Sure. The guy in marketing I only see every few months? Not so much.)

That first time, before I told my coworkers, I was of course bursting with excitement to share my news, but one thing I was lucky to not be bursting with was “morning” (ha) sickness. I didn’t use any sick days, I didn’t have to run out of any meetings with my hand over my mouth, I didn’t have to invent non-suspicious excuses for why I’d be coming in three hours late every day for two months (or more) straight. One of my coworkers tried that last one–”I’m going to be starting my workdays at noon until February! No reason!”–and we all knew exactly what was up. After that pregnancy (her first) turned into a nine-month bout of hyperemesis gravidarum, it was a no-brainer when, two years later, she didn’t come into the office for months in a row and could only work from home in the afternoons and evenings because she “didn’t feel well in the mornings.” I don’t know if she thought she was fooling anyone, but she wasn’t fooling anyone.

In cases like that, I always wonder why women don’t just say they’re pregnant. Isn’t that easier than inventing a bunch of excuses that most people aren’t going to believe anyway?

Obviously, deciding when and with whom someone shares her pregnancy news is a personal decision and based on a variety of factors (maybe she just doesn’t want to receive unsolicited assvice about guaranteed morning sickness cures?), and yet whenever I hear about women with the persistent and, ahem, “productive” kind of morning sickness, I can’t wrap my mind around keeping the secret for long. I say this, of course, as a person who has only this time around experienced what I’d call moderate and short-lived pregnancy-related queasiness, so I’m honestly wondering how the sick and working-outside-the-home women do it.

How? How do you dooooooo it?

(And please know that you have my deepest, deepest sympathy. I can’t even imagine.)

When did you tell your coworkers you were pregnant? How did you decide when to reveal the news, and was morning sickness a factor? If you had first-trimester symptoms that affected your job, how on earth did you survive the weeks or months before you came out with the truth?

Baby brain: Second verse, not the same as the first…

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Last time, I was here talking about tattoos and piercings and how they might affect your job prospects, especially if you’re sporting them in places you can’t hide during an interview. Two weeks later, things have changed a bit for me, and hey, guess what you can’t hide, at least not past a certain point and without the aid of smoke and mirrors and creative camera angles and well-placed props? Pregnancy.

Yes, it’s true, WIMmers, I’m pregnant again, and just as my body’s up to all its old tricks (I can barely breathe after a meal for the bloating), my brain is swirling with what this new addition means for my career in the long run as well as my ability to even DO my job in the short-term.

As much as I rebel against the concept of “baby brain,” I also admit that I nearly left the house in slippers the other day–in fact, I did, although I caught myself before I stepped off the porch–and have, for the past several weeks, had an all around harder time remembering what I’m supposed to be doing and when and why (who are you people and why are you in my house asking for dinner?), and I can’t think of anything else to blame it on besides baby.

The last time around, I chalked up my absentmindedness to the fact that I was maybe a little totally obsessed with the embryo/fetus I was growing and couldn’t really concentrate on anything else beyond literal navel gazing. This time, I’m thinking about the pregnancy enough, sure, but I’m also thinking about daycare pickup and preparing healthy toddler snacks and meeting work deadlines and prepping for the holidays and making sure everyone is fed and clothed and at least mostly well-rested, and that no one is walking out the door in his or her slippers. I’m trying to keep it all together–a challenge pregnant or not–and it’s definitely been harder than usual to keep my bearings. This time around I think there might be  something chemical going on after all. (But I still take issue with the research that says a woman’s brain shrinks 8 percent during pregnancy!)

Because it’s a topic that never gets old: Where do you stand on the concept of “baby brain” (aka “mommybrain”)? Did being pregnant mess with your mind? Did you fight it or lean into it as an excuse?

Do you have tattoos or piercings?

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My mom has always wanted to dye her hair purple. It’s her favorite color (her glasses have purple rims, the front door of our house was purple for many years), and she has the kind of personality that can pull it off, no question. But she’s also a nursing supervisor at a large suburban hospital in one of the most conservative states in the country. She tells doctors and nurses where to go and what to do. She asks the bereaved if they’d like to donate the organs of their recently or nearly deceased loved ones.  She is an expert and an authority figure and needs to be perceived as both when she’s on the clock, which means…purple hair just isn’t going to cut it.

When my husband was looking for work a year and a half ago, one of his mentors told him he’d have to lose his nose ring, at least for job interviews. He’s had the nose ring–a simple, non-obtrusive silver hoop–for about fifteen years, long enough that he stopped noticing it ages ago. But I noticed it the first time I met him, and our son remarks on it constantly, so it’s definitely not invisible. I think he might have taken it out for one or two interviews, but he didn’t take it out when he interviewed for the company he’s now been with for a year and a half, so apparently it wasn’t a deal-breaker. Although he, like my mom, has to be an expert and an authority figure at work too, we’re in the liberal-as-it-gets San Francisco Bay Area, and his job, although sensitive, isn’t quite on the same level as saving lives in a medical facility. So the nose ring stayed.

Meanwhile, I work for the most relaxed company ever when it comes to personal appearance–we once had an intern who was exploring her nascent Wiccanness via a wizard wardrobe, pointy hat and all–and yet here I am with no tattoos, not a single piercing, and only a few fleeting dalliances with Sun-in and color contacts (that were, incidentally, the same color as my eyes but just deeper by a shade or two because that’s how adventurous I am).

I was thinking about all this because of an article I read titled “Visible Tattoos and Other Corporate No-Nos,” in which research shows that piercings and tattoos are two of the top three factors that might turn off a potential employer. (The other factor is bad breath.) Research also suggest, however, that the workplace culture might have to change as more and more people enter the job market having grown up when tattoos and piercings were much more acceptable and common than they’ve ever been in generations past (professional pirate cultures excepted).

I kind of feel like I’m wasting the opportunity to be more creative with my appearance considering I have so much freedom at my company. So why don’t I dye my hair fuchsia and get a neck tattoo? Well, because I don’t want to, which is the best possible reason to not, I suppose, and yet…

I wish my mom could dye her hair purple and still be respected as the professional she is. And I hope my husband keeps his nose ring as long as it makes him happy (provided he doesn’t start looking like a sad old rockstar clinging to his youth via face jewelry).

What do you think about visible tattoos, unusual piercings, wacky hairdos, outrageous wardrobes and the like making an appearance on the job? Does your job limit how you present yourself style-wise? Would you ever work (or have you ever worked) for a company that restricted employees’ self-expression when it comes to physical appearance?

What’s the longest you’ve stayed at a job?

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A few days ago I celebrated* having been at my day job for ten years. Ten years! That’s almost a third of my life! When I started there, I was twenty-two, fresh out of college, and living away from my parents for the first time–900 miles away in a different state, even. (Not to mention I was also sharing an apartment with a boy I thought I’d marry but didn’t (thank god).)

Ten years later, I’m thirty-something, I have a mortgage and a kid and a husband (the right one), and, having worked for the same company, and in basically the same capacity, for an entire decade now, I feel like I’m an expert in my profession. (Or at the very least an expert in this position at this company.) I mean, I should, right? TEN YEARS.

I don’t know anyone my age who’s been at a job as long as I have save a few coworkers, which I think is a testament to my company more than it is indicative of the employment culture of our generation. For the most part, it seems that Gen Xers and Yers jump from job to job—sometimes within the same industry, sometimes not—and…well, I don’t really know what to make of it, but it sure is interesting.
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Social scene drop-out

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Ah, the work party–that semiformal bacchanalia you hate to love or love to hate, depending on how you feel about your coworkers and whether or not you appreciate their off-the-clock antics. (I have never seen anyone copy his or her backside on a Xerox machine, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.) Over the ten years I’ve been at my job, my attitude toward and involvement in non-business work events has definitely changed, but I’m not sure if it’s because of them or me? (Read: Is it because I’m older and a wife and mother and I therefore have better things to do with my time than set up empty watercooler jugs as pins so I can bowl a rolly chair into them?) (This has also not ever happened at my office, but it could. And frankly, I wouldn’t know because I’m hardly ever there.) Do you skip work events in order to spend time with your family? This too probably depends on how you feel about your family and their antics, I imagine.
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Why moms deserve a slice of the pie

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A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. –Tenneva Jordan

Everyone tells you how how being a mother will change you. “You’ll think of your children before you think of yourself.” That’s a biggie. It sounds good, too, doesn’t it? Becoming a mother will magically transform you into a soulful, selfless person who never puts her own needs before those of her child. Poof! You’re a saint. There’s just one problem: I still like pie. 
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Do you prep for family activities?

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I have a gift. I’m great at inventing elaborate family projects, compiling web bookmarks of brilliant toddler crafts, thinking up creative and engaging ways to fill our days, and then…completely lacking follow-through and just dumping a box of chalk on the sidewalk and drawing yet another house beside yet another tree while my son scribbles yet another lopsided sun.

You too? *lackluster high five*

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Did you delay kindergarten a year?

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Classes are now in session, and just because I don’t have a school-aged kid myself doesn’t mean I’m not in a back-to-school frenzy. See, I don’t “plan for” potential future crises so much as I “preemptively freak out about” them.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on my personal blog about how the kindergarten age cutoff in my area is already messing with me (my son is only two; WE HAVE TIME), and the ensuing discussion was so lively and interesting that I wanted to pose similar questions here in the specific context of working mothers.

Did you hold your child back from starting kindergarten? Was your decision at least partially based on your status as a working mom?
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Is your career field family-friendly?

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More than two years ago, I asked whether the bum economy would influence your decision to have a(nother) child. Things have picked up a bit since then–both generally in regards to the economy and specifically in regards to my own situation (I’m significantly more in the market for a second child than I was when my first was only three months old)–and now that we’re both gainfully employed, I’m asking a different question, which is: Now that I want a second kid, did I pick the wrong job in the wrong industry?

The answer, for me, is “well, kind of.” My job is extraordinary when it comes to accommodating kid-having–generous maternity leave, flexible hours–and the larger industry (publishing) is great for working moms because it offers a wealth of freelance opportunities that can be done from home, on a part-time basis, and/or after being away from the workforce for several years taking care of babies. Did I take those factors into account when choosing that career path. Nope, I just lucked out (although let’s not talk about how the industry as a whole is low-paying industry, which makes it hard to afford kids, even if my job offers plenty of flexibility to deal with them.)   

On the other side fo the coin, my husband is in research science, and according to recent data, his industry sometimes makes it hard for parents to have as many kids as they’d like, not mention spend quality time with the ones they manage to have in the first place. In a study published this week titled “Scientists Want More Children,” researchers Elaine Howard Ecklund and Anne E. Lincoln, from Rice University and Southern Methodist University, respectively, posit that both women and men are less likely to take and/or retain jobs in academic science because of its impact on family, and that they are more likely to report wishing they could have more children if it weren’t for all the time and energy they devote to career-related necessities like long hours in the lab and hoop-jumping to meet tenure requirements. (Read the abstract or the entire article here.)  

Well, that’s bad news. Why couldn’t my husband have picked a job that would better accommodate my need to have two kids? Ha, well, because our generation has been trained to seek out careers we’re passionate about, doing daily tasks we love, in jobs that make full our spirits rather than just our bank accounts. Which is exactly how I ended up working in a notoriously low-paying industry and he in one that apparently makes it hard to enjoy one’s family the way one wants to. Which means maybe we didn’t really choose jobs that would make us happy after all, since now happiness = family in a way that it didn’t when we were starting our careers as teenagers?

Womp womp.   

Did you do the same thing? Did you go into a career field with a self-centered (but in a good way!) attitude, or when picking a job track–even as early as choosing a major in college–did you consider factors like whether it would facilitate having the kind of family you envisioned for yourself? (Or, like me, did you figure it would just all work itself out somehow, which it has so far, knock on wood?) Are you on the other side already, stuck in a job that is keeping/kept you from having as many kids as you’d like? Have you, or would you consider, switching jobs or industries so you could expand your family, or at least better enjoy the one you already have? 

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