Back in the saddle, remembering that I like horses

There was one thing I kind of forgot as I was weighing my feelings about going back to work, and it was, in in hindsight, a big one.   It’s that I am very good at my job.  And while it’s not my passion, I really do enjoy it.

I’m going to violate one of the internet’s prime directives and talk about my job, just a little.

I did admin work for the better part of a decade.  I was good at it, and fast, given the amount of spare time I had compared to my peers.  But I never really enjoyed it.  I would put off tasks that I didn’t enjoy, like filing, for months.  I always got everything that needed to be done, done, but my main interest wasn’t the day to day tasks that fill up admin support days.  It was always the special projects. I’ve worked in a variety of different admin jobs, and the special projects varied along with them.  I’ve done everything from organize a trip to New York for 30 people for a week with 30 different schedules, to cold calling people in France using what remains of my childhood french immersion skills to try and find a genealogical-minded distant relative for my boss, to becoming the group expert at a new piece of graphing software, to learning Access to update and QC a giant database.  A huge range of things, and all much more interesting than putting in another stationary order.  Although that doesn’t mean an absence of pens around the office wouldn’t be a problem, so it always got done too.  Just, you know, given the choice to work on a special project or organize someone’s business cards, well… It was always easy for me to prioritize.

When I went on mat leave, I was officially a tech, but I was also still doing all the admin work, just due to the way things shook out in the group.  I had no problems with that, of course.  I’d been doing all the tech work as an admin, and there was no real difference doing all the admin work as a tech.  But now there’s an admin to do all the admin work and she’s great and I don’t have to order stationary anymore.  My entire job, in flux as it is, IS a special project.  The last couple of weeks I’ve been working for an engineer who has been an amazing teacher, and I went from knowing basically nothing about this subset of our industry to being conversant in it.  I’ve learned 601 new things in the last month, and that’s an awesome feeling that I had forgotten – how nice it is to learn something new.   To tackle some new project that at the beginning feels so confusing, so far over your head that you don’t even know how to start, and then a few short weeks later you’re QC’ing someone else’s work as a second pair of eyes.  To be an expert at something – to be the person people come to for help.  To be good at something clear and tangible with immediate results.  It’s nice.  It’s really nice.  And I had forgotten that going back to work didn’t just mean leaving J with someone else all day and getting a paycheck.  It also means that I get to be good at something and get better at other things and to learn.

It also means lunch dates and coffee dates and yes, a paycheck.  It means talking to grown ups all day, every day, and then coming home with my kid and my husband and eating together and playing together and enjoying the whole time we’re together, instead of those days spent simply waiting for naps or a play date.  It means missing out on play dates, and long daily walks and spontaneous trips to Ikea for lunch.  But right now, this very week, I can live with the trade off.  Next year, or another kid later, or a different role at work?  Who knows?  But for right now, things are okay.  Things are good.

It feels like the best deep breath I’ve taken in months.


That’s the only word to describe the first day back in the office after a year of mat leave.  Totally, completely surreal.  It was a bizarre mix of “what the fuck am I doing here?  where’s the baby?” and “what do you mean I ever left?”

And it’s not like things haven’t changed.  The company moved in to a brand spanking new office tower, I’m officially a tech and not an admin, there are 13 new people in our group of 25 people.  We’re on a new operating system, and my monitors are even bigger, so even the view of my screen is different.  (And by big?  I mean huge.  A pair of 24 inch monitors.  It’s a good thing it’s a big desk.)  I currently don’t know what, exactly, the new role will require me to like, DO every day.

But other things haven’t changed.  My three favourite people are still in the group.  My boss is still my boss.  There’s a constant struggle with budget and personalities.  (The stock price is still junk.) 

I have lunch dates and new shoes and a pair of monitors (I know I go on, but man, they make work so much easier).  I have a paycheque coming and options that just vested and coworkers and software and a brand new electric desk.  I felt… normal.

I also spent the whole damn day trying to get the daycare camera to work, so I could watch my little baby play.

Yeah.  One foot in a pretty black heel, the other in barefoot.  I’m not the first, and I’m not the last.  The main feeling for today was, oddly, how fucking NORMAL it felt.  I thought it would take a little bit more time than that, you know?

But we shall see.  I can revoke all this tomorrow and go back to being a hysterical mess, keening in the car in the parking lot of the daycare.

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.

Money and babies and work

I have a degree in International Relations, specializing in Latin America and Security & Strategy.  My minor is in Management (aka business).  This means I got to take a ton of really cool courses – the history of espionage, colonial history, world geography, history of the Cold War, European politics, Latin American culture taught in Spanish…  I can go off about Conquistadores and the Falklands War and the Suffragette movement.  I also took a bunch of boring classes on marketing and entrepreneurship and the like.  I loved my degree – it was great to be able to take whatever caught my interest (with the MAJOR limitation of course availability) and to create my own program.  I was in the first wave of the program – it was only a couple of years old at my university when I started.  To get in, there were GPA requirements and you had to meet with the Dean.  It quickly became clear that the meeting with the Dean was entirely so that he could warn you that there were absolutely no jobs in this field – an exaggeration but really, not by much, not in Calgary.  (Calgary is an Oil and Gas town.  Yes, some of the companies have international divisions, but it’s a minority compared to the companies working in the Western Basin.) 

Still, I signed on, knowing that I was going to end up in a pink collar job downtown anyway.  I worked for O&G companies most summers and I started as an admin very near the top of a major company.  The money was good, the contacts were better and the perks just lovely.  (Why, yes, I would love to go to another Flames game and sit in the $$$ good seats.)   Still, after six years, it was time to move on and I got another job internally.  (HR requires that I not talk about the drama surrounding this move.)   After six years in Corporate, I moved to the Operations side – the part of the company that actually makes the money.  I ended up in a completions group and it was a total crash course in natural gas and fracing and logistics.  And I kind of loved it.  Loved the challenge and the learning and the data management.  Much less so the admin tasks – ordering stationary, photocopying and the like.  So in April I started pushing for them to make me an engineering technician.  (Which is very much not a usual leap out of admin assistant status.)  I started doing projects for other groups – learning Spotfire and relearning Access, collecting data, organizing data swaps, benchmark tracking, reporting and more.  I started taking online classes at the local polytechnic.  And 2 days after my 30th birthday, I officially became a technician.

I have never been particularly ambitious.  6 years in the same job makes that clear.  I’ve never been in it to win, but in it to make enough money doing something I enjoy well enough so that I can live the life I want.  So that I can book at whim vacations (January in Cabo!) and not need to worry about what I buy at the grocery store and take on whatever fun project strike my interest.  So this sudden surge of ambition was interesting and unexpected.  It was actually surprising how ferocious I became about it after I became pregnant.

I’m sure it’s partially due to Canada’s wonderful parental benefits.  I plan to take the whole year off, collecting employment insurance.  I’m excited to take the year off, and have absolutely no idea how Americans manage with a mere 6-12 weeks unpaid leave.  But it means, I guess, that I was extra motivated to get the change in before I go on leave in March, so that I come back as a tech and not as an admin.  Because then I’d have to spend, I’m assuming, another year trying to convince my (possibly new) lead that I am capable as a tech.  As it is, I go off on leave, my raise comes in to effect while I’m on my 6 week disability leave (so I at least see SOME of it) and then I collect EI.  Less than 55% of my salary: or, in real math, a max of less 25k a year, which is then taxed.  So, not the perfect system, but one that I’m happy to pay in to so that I have this option.  And then get to come back to my job in to an “equal or equivalent role”, which now means technician.  It’s enough to cover, say, half my mortgage and groceries every month.  Enough to get by.  (If I rented, it would be enough for rent and groceries, even in my overpriced city.  Not much else though.)

It’s interesting, Canada’s parental leave plan.   Think about it. My back of the envelope math says that I pay in to EI with every paycheck, around $800 a year.  I’ve already been working for a decade, so I’ve paid in $8,000 ish.  So has my husband.  Assuming we each work for 15 years, the system has broken even with me and my baby.  Given we start work at 20 and optimistically retire at 55, we each work for 35 years, paying in to the system (and let’s pretend there’s no inflation because this is scratch math)  around $56,000 over our working lifetimes.  The less than $50,000 I get “up front” is something I will continue to pay in to for the rest of my working life.  Taxes allow me to take this upcoming year with my baby, and I will pay taxes so that others can do the same in the future.  I guess this is the so called scary socialism, but it just makes so much sense to me.  It means I can afford to take a year off without huge financial setbacks and it means I don’t have to choose between spending the precious first year with my baby with my career and financial well being.  It’s easier to “pay for my mat leave” over the entire course of my career than to try and save 25K by the age of 30 so I could stay home with my baby.  It’s a blessing, yes, but it’s not a free blessing from on high – I pay in to a system that is designed to protect people.  It’s not perfect at all, but it’s a damn sight better to me than nothing.   

I’ve been talking to various peers about going back to work and keep hearing the same answer over and over.  “Will you go back after a year” is almost always replied with “Totally will after the first kid, but probably won’t after the second.”  The obscene cost of day care out here (averages at $1500/month/kid) is a major reason.  The fact that many people in my small sample group are married to engineers who generally make enough scratch to keep a small family afloat is another.  The desire to collect two years of mat leave has come up more than once, and frankly, it doesn’t seem like scaming the system to me, based on the math above.  I know some who plan never to go back to work, but far more who plan to take 5 years or so off and go back with the kids are in school.  (And therefore go back to paying in to the system.)  It will be very interesting to see what people actually end up doing.  Best laid plans and all that… 

Sorry for all the half formed thoughts.  I keep circling these ideas around in my head.

I just want to be a happy person

There seems to be a lot of talk in my world these days about ambitions and goals and dreaming big and striving. And I feel more than a little removed from it.

So reading what Allysa wrote really hit home in a pleasant way. She quoted from a commencement speech by Bill Watterson (the Calvin and Hobbes guy), and it’s a pretty great speech:

“But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding* job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

I have a good job that I’m very good at, but it’s certainly not a career.  My husband is an engineer, which sounds very career-ish, but he treats it like an interesting enough well paying job that he happens to be very good at.  I treat them both like the path to lots of travel and keeping me in oil paints and mortgage money and cds.

In tangential but related news, I called my doctor’s office yesterday, and asked about IUD removal.  I’m going to wait a week or two, and then go in.  So.  Yes.

*spell check doesn’t recognize this as a word.  What does THAT tell you?

Not a life list

Life Lists seem to be the Thing these days, under whatever name you want to use.  I just… can’t get on board, for some reason.  I think it might be that I don’t dream big enough.

When I was 8 years old, I knew how I wanted my life to go.  I wanted to grow up (er), graduate high school (check), go to university (check), get a job in a shiny office tower downtown (the last office tower was shinier, but check, and I do have my own office, which: double plus check), get married (check), buy a house (check) and have babies (soon to be checked?).  So.  My life is very much on the path to be the life I’ve always wanted.  And I’m happy and like it that way.  I don’t have any burning need to set the world on fire or become famous or really rich or a published author or a rock star or anything else.  My life desire has always been to just … live a good and mostly happy life.  I’m painfully aware of how lucky I am to be in the position to have my needs met by life.

My grandparents survived the war in Germany.  My grandfather fought at both fronts and survived a Siberian POW camp – escaping once to walk to Austria before being caught, and then starving himself to the point where he was sent back to Germany weighing less than 100 pounds.  My grandmother lost part of her ear to a fighter pilot while she ran for cover, with her baby in one arm and little girl in the other. They came to Canada after the war with almost nothing, with three kids, and then lost everything else in a house fire a few years later. Their oldest daughter died at 17. Their lives were harder than I can possibly imagine.

But they came to Canada for a better life, and here I am, 58 years later, and my life is good. My life is grand. Bad things have happened to me, and I’ve hurt and felt loss and death and all that, but I have a good life. A blessed life. I’ve never been shot at, or starved, or tortured. I think the fact I don’t feel the need to dream bigger and better stems from the fact that I’m already living my dreams. (And that sounds so much cheesier than I mean it to.) I’m incredibly lucky and I know it. While I hardly feel done yet – there’s so much more to see and do – I’m more than happy with my pleasant middle class life and good job and ample travel opportunities and lovely house and wonderful husband and good friends and healthy savings and so on.

So any life list I could have would either be too small or too large. (Go to Panama / figure out what I want to be when I grow up.) Going to Panama is easy – save money, get vacation time, plan, and go. The latter seems impossible, and likely to be something that develops as I age, and will always be a work in progress.