Balancing act

Babbling baby has become the soundtrack of my sanity these past few weeks (and no, I’m not a glutten for punishment).

Deciding to come back to work was agonizing. Thankfully I have a supportive boss and have been able to work out a schedule that allows me to be both a reporter and a mom. A chunk of my day is spent in the office and then I can fill in with extra hours making calls or writing from my kitchen table.

I worried I would feel like I wasn’t doing either job well and that I would be constantly distracted by the one while doing the other.

But having Baby Girl spend at least half of her day with me instead of at daycare means I don’t feel like I’m abandoning her.

The downside is that sometimes she gets vocal when I’m trying to have a conversation with someone on the phone – like yesterday when she sang away during two separate interviews.

I gave her a card and that entertained her for awhile as she tried to stretch it and eat it and had a lengthy conversation with it (I imagine she said things like: “Get in my mouth” and “Boy, you taste good”).

But the novelty quickly disappeared and she became frustrated (the card must have said “No, I will not get in your mouth”). Her cooing turned into the sounds that signal an impending major crying fit, which would have drowned out the voice of the person I was trying to interview.

Balancing her in my lap while I used my shoulder to hold my phone to my ear and typed notes wasn’t the most graceful thing I’ve ever done, but it got the job(s) finished. Neither person on the other end of the line minded Baby Girl’s noise either, or at least they said they didn’t. And I’m feeling accomplished for writing two stories and having time to read to Baby Girl in between interviews.

The other downside is that she likes to eat things, and by things I mean everything, including notes and my laptop screen. At least I know I have a smile built into my day ‘cause she sure is cute when she does it.

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Heartbreaking work


Welcome back to work! How are you doing? my coworkers asked.

I tried to put on a brave face, but I still cried.

Brokenhearted is how I had described how I felt about going back to work to Jared.

While working as a reporter fulfills me, motherhood is me.

But if I stay home, I give up an enjoyable career I spent years building, and once Baby Girl goes to school I won’t be content at home. In the meantime I won’t be contributing to the household income. I already took four-and-a-half months off for maternity leave.

But am I being selfish by not taking the chance that I would find a similar job later? Am I shortchanging Baby Girl at a time when she needs me most?

Just as much as I want to be with her, though, I want to show her how she can do anything and the value of meaningful work. I want her to shape the world and not be hindered by guilt for having priorities in addition to having a family.

I won’t lie to her, though. Having priorities in addition to the priority of family is gut wrenching.

I’m filled with grief for the once-in-a-lifetime moments I likely won’t experience and I’m jealous that Baby Girl will look to someone else to soothe her discomforts and for guidance.

My heart seizes in my chest every time I leave for work and I blink away tears caused by uncertainty about my decision and just plain missing her.

I’ll try to focus on the positives, like a supportive husband, a flexible workplace, coworkers who also are friends, a job about which I am passionate, and knowing that my sister-in-law loves Baby Girl and is happy to spend the day with her.

And I’ll hope fervently that those are enough to stop my heart from breaking anymore.




Montana gets federal grant to study paid family and medical leave

The National Partnership for Women & Families sent out a news release today congratulating Montana for being one of four states to win a federal grant to study family and medical leave.

The announcement is copied below:

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In ‘Workplace Policies for Parents,’ Montana gets a C-minus

When it comes to policies that support new parents in the workplace, Montana is just “meh” according to a new national report.

We’re not that great, but not so bad – unlike all the states surrounding Montana, which earned solid “F”s.

Montana has protections for workers (both state and private) who take medical leave, for nursing moms and … well, that’s about it.

Read on for the full breakdown:

Montana Earns Only a “C-” in New Study for its Workplace Policies that Support New Parents

In Advance of Monday’s White House Summit on Working Families, New State-by-State Analysis Reinforces Compelling Need for Congress to Act

A new state-by-state analysis shows how little the nation supports and protects working mothers and fathers when a new child arrives – and Montana has a long way to go when it comes to helping its new parents.

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ASUM Child Care accepting children of staff; it’s about time!

At long last! Children of University of Montana employees are – for the first time in 40 years – eligible for on-campus day care through ASUM (Associated Students of the University of Montana) Child Care.

UM students have always been able to enroll their kids in the popular program, and this move will only help the university become more family friendly.

Did I say popular? I seem to recall the program once had a waiting list. This was years ago, however – and in any case, ASUM Child Care now has a lot of space to fill, according to the story in today’s Missoulian:

But with less than a month before the start of classes, overall enrollment at the ASUM day care is still down slightly and organizers are concerned about having to close one of the five centers that serve children ages 18 months to 6 years if more slots are not filled.

They’re encouraging students attending classes in the fall who are interested in on-campus day care to sign up soon or more slots may open up for children of faculty and staff, or possibly even the general public.

Got that? Use it or lose it, ASUM student, staff and faculty.

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Will MT’s upcoming minimum wage increase make it harder for teens to land jobs?

The national Employment Policies Institute recently sent me an opinion piece that targets federal and state minimum wages as a major reason why teens will have more difficulty than other job-seekers finding seasonal employment this winter and in the future.

I’m guessing that I got the piece because Montana’s minimum wage is set to increase by 10 cents on Jan. 1, 2011. That will bring the state minimum wage up to a whopping $7.35 per hour. The annual cost-of-living adjustment was approved by voters back in 2006 through Initiative 151.

In addition to its arguments against minimum wage raises, this piece has some interesting information on the effect landing an entry-level position has on teens, too. So read and enjoy! Or agree or disagree, and explain why! Or just share your own teen employment stories. My first “real” job – not counting babysitting and pulling weeds for neighbors – was working at an ice cream store every weekend and most days after school, starting when I was 15. Thankfully, it kept me too busy to spend any of the money I made.

– MM

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Can’t we moms all just get along?

You’ve got to love a piece of writing that begins with scrubbing vomit and ends with gratitude. In between, local mom and regular Mamalode writer Jennifer Savage responds to a recent opinion on motherhood in the Wall Street Journal that has ignited a heated discussion among the nation’s moms.

The WSJ piece by Erica Jong primarily takes on the “attachment parenting” model espoused in popular parenting books and celebrity culture these days. It certainly gave me a lot to think about, so I am going to let it simmer for a while rather than immediately take it apart piece by piece – which is what I wanted to do the first time I read it, starting with the very first sentence: “Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades.”

Suuuuuure. I mean, I don’t know about you, but all this focus on motherhood has been so crushing I could hardly “endure” it.

Anyway, Savagemama tackles Jong’s piece from a generational perspective, and manages to do so in a way that’s both respectful and, dare I say, vindicating.

Because Jong’s piece, while certainly thoughtful and full of several important criticisms worth discussing, did ultimately read like a judgment of every mother who has left a job to stay at home, laundering cloth diapers instead of buying disposable ones, or made sacrifices in order to breastfeed her baby.

As someone who chose the job, the disposables and the formula, maybe I harbor a little guilt about the impact my choices have had on my daughter. But I’ve found similar guilt echoed in every other mother I’ve ever met.

On some level, we all recognize that we could do better. We all recognize that, in some ways, we will always fall short of perfection.

So I see nothing wrong in a mother striving to be the best mom she can be if that’s where she chooses to put her energy. The only wrong I see is when she is judged harshly by other moms who made other choices – and when she uses her choices to cast judgment on others.

– MM

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The best laid schemes of mice and moms …

As any parent of a Missoula public school student is no doubt aware, Thursday and Friday this week are teacher education days, meaning there is no school for our kids.

No problem. Those of us who work during school hours all had plenty of advance notice to make other plans. For my husband and I, that involved creating a rather detailed schedule of work-hour compromises for both of us, playdate trades with Willow’s friends, and my mom. And, of course, being responsible people, we even had a backup plan that included her old preschool provider and a local gymnastics center.

All those plans were blown to bits this morning when my daughter woke up with a cruddy looking left eye and a flaming red right eye. Yup. Pinkeye. We were the first people in line at the doctor’s office this morning to have it confirmed and get one of those itty bitty tubes of ointment.

So, no school today, tomorrow or the next day. And no playdates, no preschool and no gymnastics – since the only person besides myself and my husband we can subject her viral pinkeye to with a clear conscience is my mom.

This sort of thing happens – not often, but it’s not unexpected. We plan for it, and then when those plans won’t work, we make adjustments. I’d like to say I’m the kind of person who takes it all in stride, but the reality is that when I go through the trouble of organizing, scheduling and PLANNING something, I get exceedingly frustrated when those plans do not work out.

Instead of working up a good head of steam, however, I try to stay cool by thinking about all the times I’ve woken up with star stickers all over my face, or found Play-Doh hearts in my shoes, or the fact that I can never see through my kitchen windows because they are always covered with hand-drawn pumpkins and smiley face suns.

Those are not the sort of things I could ever have planned for. And they make me so grateful that things don’t always go according to plan.

– MM

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Another year of Kidsfest without Missoula Mom

We moms have been known to repeat ourselves if we think no one heard us the first time. So here I am again, for the second year in a row, complaining about Missoula Parks and Rec’s annual Kidsfest being held at a time when my family can’t attend.

It’s this Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is free, and a lot of the activities are free, too. There’s music, arts and crafts, a climbing wall, etc. Sounds like a lot of fun, right? Have extra fun for me and my daughter if you go, because like I said, we won’t be able to make it.

Sorry if I sound a little whiney about this. Missoula Parks and Rec does a lot of great stuff for families and puts on other events at other times. This one rankles, though, because it is always planned for a day and time when most parents with jobs outside the home have to be at work.

Last time I spoke to Parks and Rec Director Donna Gaukler about this, she explained that the crowds sharply tapered off after 4 p.m., so it seemed best to end the event before that time. What I suspect, however, is that attendance would sharply rise again after 5 p.m., when a lot of parents would get off of work, go pick up the kids, and head down to Caras Park for some Kidsfest.

It’s worth a try, don’t you think? Next year, pretty pretty please with a cherry on top, move Kidsfest from lunch time to dinner time, and see what happens.

– MM


Breastfeeding in bathrooms a thing of the past?

A little-discussed nugget of law tucked into the federal health care reform act directs businesses that have more than 50 employees to give lactating mothers a private space in which to pump milk or breastfeed, as well as a “reasonable” amount of (unpaid) time to do so.

This Free Press article forwarded to me this morning discusses it in more detail, and got me reminiscing about all the gross places in which I struggled to pump milk for the short six weeks I breast-fed my newborn baby girl.

Bathrooms, mostly. I was struggling to wrap up my journalism degree at the time, and if the University of Montana had a dedicated lactation room, I was not aware of it. I was also working at the Kaimin, and have fond memories of sitting with my back against the door (because it didn’t lock) of the old editor’s office – a room so filthy I had to scrape what looked like crusty old macaroni and cheese off the windows just to get a little natural light – praying no one would barge in.

The article also got me looking around the Missoulian, pondering places I might pump if I were lactating now. Hmm. Looks like the bathroom again.

Which brings me to my favorite quote from the article. Here’s what Michigan Breastfeeding Network cochair and Children’s Hospital of Michigan pediatrican Rosemary Shy had to say about breastfeeding in bathrooms: “I want every employer who says (pump in a bathroom) to be forced to eat his lunch in the bathroom for a month.”

The law creates a lot of questions – how will this work for non-office staff? – and will no doubt lead to many more as the details are hashed out. But I think it’s a positive thing that the nation is acknowledging its lactating labor force at all, and I, for one, welcome the long overdue discussion.

– MM

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