News junkie

Guy at work: ‘Hey Dot, do you follow the news?’

Me, confused: ‘Um…?’

Him: ‘Or do you like, just not care and think everyone is stupid?’

Me, still confused: ‘Can’t I do both?’

 

The worst thing about being at home with a baby was the lack of adult conversation.

But many days, the worst thing about being back at work is definitely the adult conversation.

 

On wearing stilettos again

Not surprisingly, I’m loving being back at work.

There are the obvious reasons. Using my brain. Being around adults. Talking about something other than babies. Wearing proper clothes, and high heels, and jewellery, and makeup. Taking a coffee or bathroom break whenever I want. I love walking anonymously – and quickly – down the corridors, without a pram and baby and all the related paraphernalia that announce our personal lives to the world. No one has to know I’m a mum! I love being able to focus on my work without constantly listening for the sound of a little person. I love being part of a wider world, not confined to houses and malls and indoor playgrounds. I love feeling like I’m contributing, both to that wider world and the household finances (I am earning a whole $3 extra a week than we were receiving from the government’s paid parental leave scheme – that’s one whole coffee). I love lunch breaks, almost more than anything else. I love missing my little girl and rushing home to see her and seeing her face light up when I come into the house. Now that’s a face worth coming home to.

None of this surprised me.

What did surprise me was how much more I enjoy being at home, now that I’m not doing it full-time. I don’t take it for granted. I have more patience and I try to make the most of it. Whereas before I struggled with the anomaly that I didn’t see it as an actual ‘job’ but it was my job, now there’s no such anomaly. My days at home with Emma are now my days off. While still taking responsibility for most of the household chores and domestic tasks, I don’t feel the same need to convince myself I’m being productive at home. My days at work are for being productive. My days at home are for being with Emma. I feel more relaxed, more myself. I always suspected I’d be a better mum when I was working as well, and I don’t know if I am or not (I’m hardly an objective judge), but I feel better, and that’s almost the same thing.

It’s also good, in any relationship I think, to have an opportunity to miss each other. I know Emma is in good hands with her grandma and her dad and I think it’s good for her to spend lots of time with people who aren’t me, so they can teach her different things and have different outings and little rituals. She certainly doesn’t seem to think I’m doing the wrong thing by leaving her for 16 hours a week.

I remain incredibly thankful that I’ve managed to arrange such a great work/life balance at this stage in Emma’s life. Things will change in due course but for now I’m glad to be doing exactly what I’m doing.

 

On returning to work

My days as a full-time stay at home parent are numbered. I’m incredibly, unbelievably lucky to be returning to a flexible workplace (located less than ten minutes’ drive from home) on the days I chose and to be able to leave Emma with people who love her. This is mostly luck, and also because I’ve spent my 20s making decisions with a future family life in the back of my mind – one of the reasons I stay in the APS is to take advantage of the family-friendly policies, one of the (less important) reasons I applied for the job I’m in is because it was close to home, and I chose a husband who wanted to share child care duties and not just on weekends. High five to me indeed.

I’m looking forward to going back to work. I’ve written before about struggling with the stay at home gig, especially around the lack of intellectual challenge and adult interaction. Part of me does wish I loved it more. I wish I never wanted to go back to work. I wish I could say to Emma when she’s older, “You were all I wanted.” I guess if I felt that way I’d probably still have to go back to work for financial reasons, or we’d have to make much bigger sacrifices in order to let it happen. But it would be nice to not have the ambivalence, to just want one thing and be able to focus on that, rather than know I’m going to spend the next 18+ years trying to juggle my need to work with my need to be with my child(ren).

I don’t feel guilty about wanting to work, or about going back when she’s 10 months old, which is earlier than even I expected. Of course it helps that she will be at home with Toby and her grandma – I will miss her, but I won’t worry about her or whether she is being looked after. Even as someone who is all for child care and doesn’t think a child necessarily needs to be looked after by a mother or father in order to be raised properly, I’m glad for now she’ll be at home. It will make the transition easier for both of us. Come January we’ll be revisiting our work hours and she’ll go into care two or three days a week, and that will be great too.

What I am worried about in returning to work is the work itself – and I know these worries reflect a position of absolute privilege, but they are my worries and they are legitimate for my life. I’ll only be in the office two days a week, and I will want to leave not much after 5pm to get home for Emma’s evening routine so we can have time together before she’s in bed at 7pm. I’ll have remote access to my emails and files so I can stay in the loop the rest of the week. But I know I’m not in for an easy return.

I’ve been the full-time worker fielding cranky phone calls for the part-timer at the next desk. I’ve been the full-time worker staying late while the part-timer clocks off at 5pm regardless of what else there still is to do. I know the kind of resentment that can build in a team where flexible working arrangements aren’t properly managed. On the other hand, I’ve been the full-time worker who got to go to interstate conferences and meetings, who got acting and other development opportunities, who has been supervising graduates and other staff for what feels like a long time, who was able to stay late to meet with the higher-ups, or come in on the weekend to work on something important, and thus build a reputation and build relationships that led to further opportunities and the pleasant feeling of being on first name terms with the deputy secretary or whoever.

These are the sorts of things I’m going to miss, because despite all our flexible work policies and claims to the contrary, if you’re not in the office, you’re not in the running. It’s disheartening to know that even when I am working my butt off, even if I’m the best two-day-a-week worker ever, I won’t be getting nearly the same opportunities as I used to, or as the full-timer at the next desk. I’ll be doing my best to advocate for myself, and hopefully I’ll have a boss who does the same, but I know that part-time hours plus having a little one to look after (which I wouldn’t change for the world, obviously) mean I’m just going to have to live with this for the time being. But it’s a difficult realisation after feeling so good about my career for a long time.

Most part-timers I’ve worked with have worked harder than anyone else – they have to, because they don’t have the luxury of staying late and they won’t be in tomorrow to get it done then. I know I’ll be working my butt off the two days a week I’m in the office, and I know I’ll be doing my best to stay connected the other five days of the week. My work has always been important to me and my sense of self, I am someone who functions best with tight deadlines and I’ve always been able to give my work as much time as it needed. But I don’t know how to be in the office two days a week and actually be valuable, let alone be seen to be valuable, and feel valuable.  If I only wanted to work for the money none of this would matter, but I need more from my work and my challenge will be how to get that ‘more’. In two days a week. When one of those days is Friday and in our division Friday is morning tea day and we all know what that means for productivity.

This is the reality for now, and it’s a reality I am trying to prepare myself for.

Luckily I’m not the first person to face these challenges and I have already had lots of discussions with friends and colleagues who have gone before me, bright, intelligent women who face these same questions and dilemmas and are managing to muddle their way through somehow. They have all been able to give some very thoughtful and helpful advice, from time management to office politics. They don’t make out that it’s easy, but I’ve got a good base of a supportive husband, a division where part-time work is very common and a role which won’t be subject to Cabinet-related time pressures. Between this base and my wonderful network of working mums I guess I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be to jump back into the fire.

“That’s Not Very Exciting”

The other day I was in line to buy lunch. I was at work, visiting friends. They were sitting outside with the Baby while I lined up, sans pram, like a normal person. The man in front of me was my first-ever public service boss, 10 years ago. Now we work on the same floor, because Canberra is like that. He’s kind of socially awkward and has a way of interacting that makes you wonder if he’s secretly laughing at you, even if you’re not saying anything that could be funny on any level. I asked what he was doing at the moment and he had some story about being moved into a different team for a while and blah blah. He asked me what I was doing, in a “Oh I haven’t seen you around for a while” kind of way. I said, “I’m at home. With a baby.”

“Oh,” he says. He doesn’t know what to say. He’s a middle-aged gay man and he doesn’t seem the family type. I happen to know he left the job where he was my boss to go and live alone on Oxford Street and basically party 24/7. Maybe he wrote a novel? “That’s not very exciting,” he adds.

He’s pretty much the only person who has really hit the nail on the head, of what maternity leave isn’t. Exciting.

“It’s not,” I say. “It’s lovely, but it’s not exciting.”

I am saved from further conversation about my ambivalent feelings towards maternity leave by the appearance of other people who know me, female people who have children of their own, whose first words when I announced my pregnancy a year ago were, “How exciting!”

Having a baby is exciting. There’s no other word that covers the same mix of joy and terror, of life changing completely, of inviting a brand new person into your family. Staying at home with said baby, day in, day out? Not so much.

I miss writing. My job – in this big shiny office building where I was visiting – involved lots of writing. All day. To all kinds of people. I miss creating sentences, paragraphs, putting my point across with words. I miss adult interaction. I miss being able to turn around and say, “What do you think about this?” I miss feeling productive and I miss feeling intellectually challenged.

And so, yet another blog is born.