Halloween

I’m not much of a Halloween person, which I realize makes me sound like a grouch.  I loved trick or treating as a kid, and when Jess is a little bit older, we’ll totally do that.  (In a snow suit, if the weather is like it is this year.)  But as an adult, it’s kind of meh for me.  I’m not a big costume person, I don’t participate in Slutoween, and I’m unenthused about hanging around answering the door for 3 hours giving out candy.  Other years, I’ve gone to Ikea, gone out for Vietnamese, hung out in the basement and once on the rare Saturday Oct 31 went to a party.  This year seems to be shaping up to be a basement Halloween, in part because it’s snowing outside, and the baby cares less than I do.

I did, however, dress her up in her Tigger onesie for our fitness class this morning.

Cute little Tigger

Because how could I not?  Such a cute little Tigger/tiger baby.

Tiger goes roar

On Guilt

On Monday we went to a mommy and baby fitness class at the pool.  It’s pretty great – I wear a deep water running belt and Jess sits in a tethered boat floating behind me.  So as I do laps of the deep end, she follows along, kicking her feet and chewing on bath toys.  I never feel that I’m working that hard (10 years of competitive swimming means that if doesn’t start with 5×100 meter set, it doesn’t count as exercise), but I’m always beat afterwards.  Plus, Jess often has epic naps afterwards.  It’s a great class.

After the class, I sat in the baby pool with two of the other mothers and chatted for almost an hour. I’ve talked to these ladies before – in fact, have even been in classes with them before.  (Strollercize with one, and library class with the other.)  We’ve been doing this for the past month, and despite the fact I cannot remember their names, I know a good deal about them, and their parenting style, and their babies.  This time, we ended up talking about going back to work.  (We live in Canada, where year long mat leave is the norm.  I’ve only heard of a few women, generally self employed, who don’t take at least most of a year.  Most people take the full 52 weeks, and corporate life hasn’t fallen apart.  1 year contracts for temps are super common.)  The other two ladies were so totally uncomplicated about their choices, and it made me feel deep envy.

One works in a high pressure group at a large corporation and is not going back.  Her work is very family unfriendly, she feels if she works she can’t give 100% in either role, and she loves spending the days playing and snuggling with her daughter.  The other works as a coordinator for a major charitable organization – a job that is much more family friendly and also is very rewarding.  She is going back to work, and seems very un-conflicted about it.

I’m going back to work, in large part, because the last 8 months has shown us that I am, in fact, not very good at being a stay at home mother.  And that makes me feel like shit.

Look.  I love STAYING HOME, but I don’t love STAYING HOME WITH THE BABY, if you can parse out the differences.  I love sleeping in, and spending the day puttering around the kitchen, and going to lunch with friends, and long walks around the reservoir, fitness classes, and surfing the internet for hours,  and puttering around the house.  I like being able to take care of chores during the day so our evenings are clear for hanging out.  I like getting to read a lot, and being able to shrug off insomnia nights and make up for it later with naps.  I like the lifestyle of being at home (a Lady Who Lunches), but I am well aware right now it’s totally dependent on a baby who is rarely awake for more than 2 hours in a stretch, has 3 naps a day and isn’t yet mobile.  I find it hard enough to entertain the kid for 2 hours at a stretch, and she spends a good deal of time (delightedly, but still) in the exersauser /on the playmat / in the stroller as we run errands.  That’s not exactly the reading/playing/snuggling bliss that I genuinely believe some people love to do.  I don’t.  I try, but I can only try to read at a kid who spends her whole time trying to eat the book while ignoring my words utterly before I just hand her the book and watch her chew on it.  I just don’t have the patience now, and this age sounds a fuckload easier than having a toddler, who needs entertainment and attention all the time.

And yet, I don’t feel like a failure as a mother.  I breastfeed.  I make baby food.  I cloth diaper.  I know my baby well: I have identified two different legitimate medical problems that the doctors didn’t (the second tongue tie and the weight loss/sleep/milk issue, although I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, I was able to get them to help me find the solution.)  I feel capable at the daily tasks of raising this tiny baby of mine.  I just don’t feel as up to the daily task of entertaining her, and that makes me feel like shit too.

I think it would be easier if I was going back to work at something I was passionate about. I like my job, and I’m proud of the promotion I got before I went on mat leave, but I don’t love it.  It doesn’t complete me, or is my passion, or anything like that. It’s a good job, that pays well, that challenges me in good ways, and allows me to live the life I love and to travel.  My work isn’t as meaninful as working with sick kids, for example, or creative like running websites, or involved in any way with my undefinied passions.  (I don’t think fraccing is anyone’s passion.  It’s a good job that needs to be done, and that’s it.  For all of us at work, I think.)

I feel like shit about going back to work. (Giving up all the time with my baby!  Giving up the nice relaxed lifestyle I’m enjoying!)  I feel like shit at the through of having to stay at home for years.  (Failing at being the kind of stay at home mom I coulda/shoulda/woulda be!)  I feel like I’ve set myself up for being unable to win.  I also feel like this is entirely in my own head, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

Linked are three unrelated posts that were all very helpful in helping me pull my thoughts in to some for of order.   Meghan about not being guiltyLiz on staying at home with her sonJill about making parenting less stressful.

Mixed Motherhood Messages

I forget that everyone who might read this might not also read A Practical Wedding.  I had a post go up a couple of weeks ago where I mused about how the cultural messages about babies fucked me up.

“The world has so much to say about motherhood, and it is all so hyperbolic. It is either the BEST THING EVER or the WORST THING EVER. I made the mistake of reading all the books and all the blogs and all the words and internalized far too many voices.”

There are some pretty great comments, too.  Some interesting discussions, and everyone was so very calm about things, which I think we all know is a rarity on the internets when the topics of kids comes up.

I have way too much stuff

The meme goes: Bold the ones you have and use at least once a year, italicize the ones you have and don’t use, strike through the ones you have had but got rid of. The ones I’ve done nothing to I don’t, and have never, owned.

“I wonder how many pasta machines, breadmakers, juicers, blenders, deep fat fryers, egg boilers, melon ballers, sandwich makers, pastry brushes, cheese boards, cheese knives, electric woks, miniature salad spinners, griddle pans, jam funnels, meat thermometers, filleting knives, egg poachers, cake stands, garlic crushers, martini glasses, tea strainers, bamboo steamers, pizza stones, coffee grinders, milk frothers, piping bags, banana stands, fluted pastry wheels, tagine dishes, conical strainers, rice cookers, steam cookers, pressure cookers, slow cookers, spaetzle makers, cookie presses, gravy strainers, double boilers (bains marie), sukiyaki stoves, ice cream makers, fondue sets, healthy-grills, home smokers, tempura sets, tortilla presses, electric whisks, cherry stoners, sugar thermometers, food processors, bacon presses, bacon slicers, mouli mills, cake testers, pestle-and-mortars, and sets of kebab skewers languish dustily at the back of the nation’s cupboards.”

Luckily my ex kept most of the more ridiculous kitchen stuff, and my current kitchen, while totally lacking in counter space, does have a lot of cupboard space.  Because, ridiculous or not, I love my panini maker.

Simply distracted

I woke up with a headache, one of those bad ones that also makes you want to throw up.  I popped a couple of pills and went to my fitness class anyway, because, well, I paid for it, so of course I have to go.  Also, if it was a tension headache (and let’s be honest, there is always a tension aspect to my headaches), moving around might help.   So I got everything ready to go, chocked down a granola bar and went to class.  Only as I walked in to the building did I realize that I had forgotten to put on runners and instead was wearing slip on Puma open ballet flats.  You know, probably the least appropriate gym footwear (without a heel) that I own.

I felt like an idiot.

I did the class anyway, and just stuck with low intensity options for the cardio, and kicked them off for the final bit of stretching.  Annoying, but no big deal in the end.

However.  Call it mommy brain and I will bite you.  I HATE that expression.  It’s so utterly demeaning.  It’s like, “oh, when you pushed that baby out, your brain fell out too!”  Ugh.  No, I had a headache and was overly focused on getting all of Jess’s stuff together and out the door and wasn’t paying attention, but it’s not because I’m a mommy.  It’s because I’m a human being and got distracted.  This (sadly) isn’t the first time I’ve worn the wrong shoes to a fitness class.  This is just the first time that I’ve done it since I had a kid.  (And couldn’t just run back to my office to get the right ones.)

It’s just such a patronizing expression.  Dismissive and demeaning. Implies, really, that women with children are reduced.  Less intelligent. Less capable. Lesser.  And I don’t like that shit one bit.  Call me distracted, call me tired, call me out for not paying attention to the details, call me stupid, call it an accident, call it human behaviour.  Just don’t call it mommy brain.

Or else I’ll make her bite you.

She’s bite hard, too

Paying for university

I just read an interesting article on Babble by Megan Francis, talking about why she won’t be paying for college for her kids.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but I do with most of it, especially the part about a trade being more valuable.  David is a lead engineer, and makes good money.  The plumber who came out a few weeks ago to fix our little sewage backup problem charged an hourly rate almost 3 times higher.  Yeah.  If I go back to school, it will be to the local polytech trade school, not to the university for grad school.  Because I want a career, see, not another amusingly useless degree.  Don’t get me wrong – I loved university, and the classes I took, and the experiences I had.  It has, however, done nothing material to help my career, and while I’m totally fine with that, I see no point of going back for more paper I can’t translate in to the work force.  A 2 year engineering technician program would be infinity more useful to me than a MA in International Relations, you know?

Anyway.

David and I each paid for university, but we both had help.  His parents, along with his roommate’s parents, bought the boys a condo for the 4 years they were in Calgary, so they ddn’t have to paay rent – *just* utilities and food and books and tuition and rum.  I lived at home, so got free room and board, but still paid for books and tuition and a social life.  I worked summers, of course, and I also had 4 part time jobs.  (Which sounds way harder than it was. I worked catering and concerts at the university, and the special events set up for the city and the botanical gardens.  All were random shifts with unpredictable hours, and I could turn down any I needed to without problems.)   David didn’t work during the year (engineers have to take 6 courses a semester, while the rest of the campus maxes out at 5) but worked every summer.  We both agree that having to work to pay for (some of) school made us work harder and not fuck around.  Also, we’re in Canada.  Tuition to our university was like 25k for the 4 years, I think?  Call it 30k with books.  I couldn’t quite make enough in the summers to cover it, but that’s why I worked year round.  David had to take out a small loan in his 5th year, but it was paid back quickly.

So we want some of that for Jess.  Working to your goals makes you work harder, and be less entitled, and appreciate it more.

But, on the other hand, we want to do something.

So yesterday, I figured it out.  Canada has a nice Registered Education Savings Plan program, and I think it’s kind of great.  We’ve registered for a family plan, so if Jess doesn’t go to any post secondary, future-hypotetical second kid can, or I could even use it.  And even if no one ever can use it, the money can be moved to an RRSP, although minus the grants and the tax on the interest.  Otherwise, the interest isn’t taxed, and the money is only taxed when the student uses it, but kid will probably have a low enough income to not need to pay much in the way of taxes on it.  Also, they can spend the interest, and at the end, you can take the principle back, tax free. So far, so good, right?  Well, it gets better.  This is Canada, where politicians actually back up their claims of “family friendly”.  If you put in $2500 a year, the feds will add $500 a year to the RESP.  Our province matches that the first year, and there are a couple of $100 grants offered throughout the kid’s childhood.  Plus, all families in Canada are eligible for the Universal Child Care Benefit, which comes to $1200 a year. Thankfully, we don’t need that money to cover day to day costs, so we’re saving it up and will stick it in to an RESP every year, which means that we personally only need to save $1300 a year.  If we do this for 17 years, everything else being equal, before interest that’s $51,500, and will only cost us $21,800.  And, let’s be honest, I expect the grandparents, or at least my mother, to give Jess a bit of money at Christmases for this exact purpose.

So that’s our plan.  We’ll not spend the UCCB cheques, and we’ll save $1300 a year (minus whatever comes from the grandparents) and anything else is on her.  That seems fair, right?  Hopefully, because that’s the plan.

 

God, I love this country.

Daycare

It’s one of the oldest mom fights on the internet – working moms versus stay at home moms, and rhetoric is strong and people have such intense feelings about their choices.  While I personally don’t care what anyone else does, I wish I had some of the conviction that these shrill internet voices have.  Hi, my name is Morgan and I have a seven month old daughter and I can’t decided what kind of parent I want to be.

It’s impossible to have a discussion about these kinds of choices without discussing privilege, so let me own up to mine right up front.  I am middle class, white, university educated, cis-gendered, married, financially solvent, own my own home, gainfully employed, have a husband who theoretically could support us on his salary, and, rather importantly for this discussion, Canadian.  Which means I get a year of parental leave.*  It basically gives me a year to play stay at home mommy before I have to commit to either going back to work or choosing to stay home with my kid. This is a huge blessing, obviously, but it’s given me perhaps way too much time to go back and forth on deciding if I actually want to return to work.  It’s the topic that keeps me up at night.

I started to write this and I made my usual pro and con list, and it’s lengthy.  I can argue that it’s bad to derail my career, now that it finally has some traction, but on the other hand, if I want to progress substantially in my field, I will have to take a two year full time program and have to drop out of the workforce anyway, so why not now?  And back and forth – career, money, child care options, and so on.  But those are all fairly specific to my personal situation, and, if I’m being honest, are more superficial than figuring out How I Want My Life (And Motherhood) To Be.

Let’s, for now, completely discount the oft repeated line about “paying someone else to raise your children”.  And by discount, I’m calling bullshit.  After all, no one accuses elementary school teachers of doing that, right?  I’m Jess’s mother.  David and I raise will her, and will instill values and all the rest.  The fact that someone else would deal with some of the day to day care doesn’t change that.  And, as a bonus, a paid professional would be the one to have to do the bulk of potty training!  Daycares do things that I can’t.  I don’t bring in a music man once a week to sing songs.  I can’t socialize her as well through occasional playdates as day to day companions would.  I don’t have a dietician planning meals.  I don’t plan theme days.  I don’t have any education in how to raise babies, and can easily slide in to lazy habits like sticking Jess in the excersaucer for an hour, because I don’t always know how to fill all the long days. I mean, I am hardly neglecting her, but I also know that I’m no childhood development expert.

Seven months in, I like the life I have.  I like that I get to sleep in every day, and go to fitness classes with Jess multiple times a week.  I like the long walks, and puttering around the kitchen making baby food, and coffee shop visits with friends.  I like being able to go to the wading pool in the middle of afternoon.  I like her two hour long naps that free me up to do my thing – read a book, surf the internet, work on a painting, even do housework so that evenings are free to hang out with David.  I like spending my days with the cutest person I ever created, chomping on her cheeks and watching her grow.  I like this life I have right now.

But I do miss work.  I miss doing measurable, productive work, of reaching milestones, of business lunches.   I miss getting to learn new things, and take on new project.  I miss getting to sign off on millions of dollars of work and build databases and be the business unit’s expert at something.  I miss getting to spend 8 hours a day without someone touching me.  (Babies are great, but some days all I want is a little personal physical autonomy.)  I want the chance to focus on something for longer than nap time.

But if I stay home, it does mean that we need to change a few things about our lives.  David and I both grew up without much money, and have never got in the habit of spending too frivolously, if you exclude travel and hockey tickets.  So cutting down our income wouldn’t change the fundamentals of our lives – David would probably sell more of his seasons tickets, and our vacations would go from international trips to the road trips around Montana and BC that we both grew up with.  (I’d probably go to Sephora less often too.)  But I love our vacations!  Wanderlust is part of how I define myself.  David’s promised me that if I do go back to work, we’ll go to Europe next fall, rent a place and stay for a few weeks.   (It’s like he knows what makes me tick…)

One of the great things about mat leave is that you get to experience so many things – those first smiles and the day your baby discovers her hands and those other sweet firsts.  But you also get to experience the lows of staying at home, and it means you can never truly glamourize it.  For every afternoon in the pool, I’m going to have a winter day where it’s -30 out and the baby is bored and I’m exhausted and we’re just so sick of each other’s faces. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to stay home, exactly, it’s just that I can more clearly see both sides.

I have no fear that putting my child in care would change the love my baby has for me.  We currently joke that Jess thinks of me as “Milk” and David as “Happiness”, because when he walks through that door after work, her face lights up with pure joy.  He works full time and she still thinks he is the best thing ever.  The daily time apart has not stopped them from bonding – in fact, due to the PPD, he bonded with her far more easily than I did, despite the daily separation.

But honestly, it’s hard to choose the future right now, as life with babies is so … immediate.  It can be hard to see what’s ahead.  I wasn’t really a newborn person, but I love this baby stage.  She’s easy to deal with – she can amuse herself for 15 minutes just looking at her own feet! She’s not mobile and naps a lot and is easily entertained.  I’m not sure I’m really cut out to be a SAHM to a toddler.  They look exhausting.  I feel exhausted just being near my friends’ toddlers.

But my baby is so little, and for such a short time, and I have another 30 years of work ahead of me.  How can I not want to spend a little more of this precious time with my little baby while she is so tiny?  I know from spending the last seven months at home that there are days that just feel like magic – and other days that feel like hell.  (And quite honestly, those are the days I’m very glad I am on mat leave, because I can also take a nap after another horrifyingly sleepless night.)

Let me be honest.  Much of this decision has to do with what’s best for me, not for my baby.  She’s an easy going baby, one who goes with the flow, whatever we’re doing.  I’m sure that she would thrive at home with me, or in a daycare setting.  So it really comes down to what I want, and what’s best of our family of three.  I just don’t quite know what that is yet.  As it is, I will sign up for (very expensive) daycare and plan to go back to work, grateful with my whole heart for the year we’ve had spending basically all our waking hours together. **   I’ll go back to work, but with the understanding that if I truly hate it, we will talk about me quitting my job (part time just isn’t done at my company).  It’s far easier to quit your job than to find a new one, after all.  Or we can push the timeline up for kid number 2, because let’s be honest, if I can collect another year of paid parental leave, that wouldn’t hurt the bank account.  In the meantime, I have 5 more months of getting to spend all my days with the cutest person I ever created, and that’s pretty awesome.

* Quick explanation, as this always comes up.  In Canada, you pay into Employment Insurance with every paycheque, up to a max of ~$800 a year, and your employer matches it.  So in the 10 years we’ve been working, David and I have paid ~$16,000, plus the employer match.  Parental leave pays a max of ~$25,000, depending on your income.  It’s pretty great –it’s much easier to pay into a system that pays you out when you need it, instead of trying to save up 25K before you’re ready to have a kid.  Also, you are guaranteed an equivalent job at your company when you go back.  Companies do not pay you anything while you are on leave – with a few exceptions of companies who “top up” your EI payments.  Jobs are usually filled with someone working on a one year contract – a lot of people get in to an organization that way and find a new position when the year is up – it’s actually pretty good for everyone.

** Parental leave is something worth fighting for!  Canada only moved to 52 weeks of parental leave in 2001 – that’s not that long ago!  Change can happen.