Northern BC

Hey, so I went up to the deepest wilds of Northern BC for work recently.  First time being away from the baby, which was kind of weird but 100% fine.  It helped that we had out last nursing session 3 days earlier (the milk dried up, and she was cool with it, reaching for a sippy cup when she found nothing else to drink).  But really, it was bizarrely, totally fine to be away from the kid and the husband for 4 full days.  It was a worthwhile trip, too.  It’s one thing to learn about jointed tubing, and it’s another thing to stand on a drill floor 30 meters above the ground and see what the kelly floor looks like, and how the tubing gets there, you know?

It’s also just nice to get our of town for a few days.  We flew up in a small commercial plane – small enough that there were propellers, and at row 5, I was halfway to the back of the plane. Nice smooth ride up – just bunnyhopping north and westwards.

Whee!

Whee!

Then the three of us (I was traveling with two coworkers) got to ride in a 4 seater chopper, and because I begged, I got to sit in the front with the super hot Australian pilot.  (For some reason, in the bush, all the pilots are young Australian men?  No complaints.)

DOUBLE WHEE!

DOUBLE WHEE!

I wanted to be in the front for the views – the cute pilot was just a bonus.  It’s just so vast and empty, I can’t even tell you.  There are occasional thin strands of “roads”, trails at best, made by energy companies, used by 4x4s, and quickly reclaimed by nature.  Random rivers and lakes and creeks and oxbows and it’s like a geography lesson from above.

I was reading the most recent Game of Thrones book, and these isolated strands of white trees made me think of Godswoods and being north of the Wall. I am a nerd.

I was reading the most recent Game of Thrones book, and these isolated strands of white trees made me think of Godswoods and being north of the Wall. I am a nerd.

It’s really, really far north.  Camp’s about 58 degrees north, and the Arctic Circle starts at 66 degrees.  I was there a week before Solstice.  The sun officially set around 11:30, and rose again around 3:30.  It barely got dark.  I found it hard to sleep, because at 12:30, it was still almost bright enough out to read by.

This picture was taken around 11:30 at night.

This picture was taken around 11:30 at night.

It also screwed up my schedule, because when someone said “Let’s go bear hunting”, it made sense to go, because it looked like 7pm brightness out all evening.  Of course, it was actually 10 pm, but whatever, there were bears!

Baby bear!  Mama's hiding in the bushes.

Baby bear! Mama’s hiding in the bushes.

"Bear hunting" is when you slowly drive the 22 km to the main highway and count all the bears you see, from the safety of your pickup truck.

“Bear hunting” is when you slowly drive the 20 km to the main highway and count all the bears you see, from the safety of your pickup truck.  (This photo was taken at 11 pm.)

I saw 7 bears, and was thoroughly delighted.  I’ve seen bears many times before, but it’s still a novelty.  Even after taking the Bear Awareness course at work, and seeing videos of bears climbing trees and polar bear cubs covered in seal blood.  Bears are still neat!  (If, you know, super dangerous wild animals who under no circumstances ever should you attempt to pet.)

Just call me Brian, in my super hot borrowed coveralls.

Just call me Brian, in my super hot borrowed coveralls.

Seeing the site was great, getting to walk around unescorted was nice, getting the various companies to explain their processes to me was really helpful (and understanding at least 70% of what they were saying was even better!)…  The food was excellent, as is always the case in dry, remote camps.  (12 hour shifts, no booze, nothing to do but sleep and workout when not on site…  the food HAS to be good to keep people happy.)

Flying home was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, but at least I was on a mostly empty 737, and so got my own row for all three hops.  We were unfortunately grounded in Edmonton, due to lighting and tornadoes and shit.  By grounded, I mean trapped in a plane for three fucking hours, while the plane was pulled in to the hanger.  It was terrible.  The 6 of us left on the plane could have rented a car and driven home faster, especially once they found a mechanical problem, and then had to wait for 15 other planes to take off in front of us.  I was fine being away from the baby until then, and then I got twitchy and frustrated and really wanted to be home.  (I should have beaten D and J home from work, not got there just before bedtime.)  On the upside, I got to read 650 of the Dances with Dragons book, so that was nice.

It's a good thing I'm not a nervous flier, because the landing was like an intense roller coaster ride of bouncing and tilting.

It’s a good thing I’m not a nervous flier, because the landing was like an intense roller coaster ride of bouncing and tilting.

When I finally got home, I had D bring J up to the main floor so that she could see me walk back in the front door, after watching me leave a few days earlier.  She saw me coming up the walk and got frantic with excitement, and was pawing at the door while D unlocked it.  I scooped her up in a hug and she nuzzled right in, for a second.  And then refused to even so much as glance at me for the next thirty minutes.  Wouldn’t let go of me, but was so clearly, adorably punishing me for leaving by purposefully refusing to look at me.  It was cute.  We cuddled and talked and then I read her a few books and then she was fine.

I’m glad I went, I was glad to come home.  Which is all I ask of any trip ever, basically.  Just nice that this one didn’t, you know, cost me cash dollars like all my other trips do.  Also, bears!

The Great Flood of 2013

It’s really weird living in a city devastated by a major natural disaster, and being personally almost completely unaffected.  I mean, sure, I’m working from home with a baby at my feet because my building downtown is still powerless, and D’s been temporarily relocated to an office in the deep south, but that’s about it.  The house flooded 2 years ago, but that was due to the saturated ground and constant rain, not due to river flooding.  We discovered that our roof leaks, which isn’t awesome, but is a mere trifle compared to the fact that 100,000 people were evacuated (including my mother, trapped on the other side of multiple closed bridges) and actual houses were swept away.

So.  City’s in chaos, region is devastated, industry shut down, houses ruined (and did I ever mention that flooding isn’t covered by insurance in Canada anymore?), transit a mess, Stampede grounds flooded weeks before the city’s huge moneymaking Stampede…  And we hung out at home, carefully positioning water barrels and listening to the sump pump turn on briefly perhaps a dozen times.

D's spiritual home, flooded

D’s spiritual home, flooded

It’s been heartwarming to watch the city pull together, and amazing how great our mayor’s been, and astonishing at how fast things are getting back to normal.

I mean, sure, I don’t know how I’m going to get to work when it finally opens back up – the c-train’s down for weeks, and the bus I would otherwise take follows the Elbow River – where the worst of the flooding was.  But we’ll figure something out, and I’ll still be grateful that everyone I know is safe, and that I live in a place that really comes together in times of crisis.

Countdown

We’re in countdown mode mode.  My official back to work date is March 6th – Jess’s birthday.  I may use a couple of my vacation days to ease myself back in, but at any rate, mat leave is ending.  And I have SO MANY FEELINGS about it.

First and foremost, it’s gratitude.  I love this country, and I will continue to keep paying EI for the rest of my life, grateful that I pay in to a system that pays out when I needed it.  Grateful to live in a society that sees the value of having a parent stay home with the baby for a year.  Grateful that I got the year to recover from the traumatic birth and PPD and get to the point of loving my baby, and enjoying my baby, without needing to work at the same time.  Without having to worry about money overly much.  Grateful for how much easier this year was, that it would have been if I lived in the States.  Grateful for a year spent with my little sweet baby at my side all the time.  Grateful.  Just so grateful.

Second, I’m a little excited to go back to work.  I have an office on the 30-something floor of the tallest building in town.  (Alas, I’ve lost my window, but all internal walls are glass, so at least there should be light.)  At the Christmas party, I ran in to one of the engineers who had been promoted to lead in my absence, and she offered me a job in her section of our group.  A move that my boss has already approved, so my agreement was a formality, but still.  They are looking forwards to me returning, and I’m glad that I’ll be returning as a full on tech.  No admin work now – the group has a full time admin.  I’m actually on a separate floor from the support staff in our business unit – I’m sitting upstairs with the engineers.  This suggests that my promotion is no longer just in name.  This is excellent.  In talking to one of the other engineers, there is a bunch of work that they are just waiting for me to come back and do.  This is good.  After years of being underemployed at the office, I look forwards to the challenge.

Thirdly?  SAD.  How can I leave my baybee all day?  So many feelings!

Fourthly: relieved.  I have friends who stay home with toddlers, and others multiple pre-school aged kids at home.  And you know what?  That looks really, really, really hard.  The short attention spans, the power plays, the constant need of stimulation, the constant attention…  I don’t think that age will be my finest hour as a parent.  It might be a good thing that the kid gets to spend a chunk of her day with trained adults and a room full of playmates.   Don’t get me wrong – I love my kid.  And I am loving this age – independent enough for “play” with books for 20 minutes at a stretch, takes good naps, easy to lug around.  I’m just not sure that I’ll love the next  age as much.  Um.  It looks exhausting.

Fifth?  Worried.  The logistics of day care, of getting us up and out every morning.   The insanity of David’s company, who keep changing where he’ll be working for the next 6 months, which means we keep switching our daycare centre, and that’s a pain.  It’s complicated, but basically, the downtown daycare works if he’s near downtown, as his company pays for parking.  If he’s located in the deepest south, away from downtown, it doesn’t work unless I take the baby on the train every day, and that would be a nightmare.  Paying for parking would be ~600/month, and add that to daycare costs, and working becomes too close to barely a break even thing.  So if he’s south, the baby has to go to one of the chain’s south locations.  Which means I don’t get to commute with either of my favourite people.  And don’t suggest a daycare close to home – the only one that would return my phone calls?  After touring it, I cried a little and talked about quitting my job.  Not the place. Even just the logistics of getting 3 people up and out of the door every single morning sounds tough.  And making and eating dinner and playing and bath time in the short evening window.  And getting Jess on a 7-7 schedule.  (We’re working on it.)  So many logistics.  We’ll get there, but it sounds tough.

Sixth would be more of the sads.  So many sads.

But for now, I’ll go to mom and baby fitness classes and as many play dates as I can and a quick vacation to Texas, and enjoy the hell out of time that’s left of this marvelous window of my baby’s life.

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.

Amateur Sociology

I take the train to and from work every day. I’ve been riding the train daily since grade 10, so for more years than I want to count.  Calgary Transit sucks pretty bad.  It’s insufficient for a major city, I’m pretty sure it’s the most expensive per ride system in the country, and the light rail train system falls apart every time it snows more than 2mm.  But, it’s still better than driving in the city during rush hour.  The thought alone of having to drive downtown every day gives me an ulcer.  When the train works, it’s actually not that bad.  It’s only 25-30 minutes from my front door to my office door, on a normal day.  (We’ll ignore all the days it takes more than an hour because of who-the-hell-knows-what’s-gone-wrong-today.)  Driving would probably take longer, especially once you factor in parking downtown.  It would certainly cost more.  (Parking downtown Calgary is the most expensive in Canada, last I heard.  There are some downsides of living in a wealthy city.)

Anyway.  I spend a lot of time on the train, and also a lot of time complaining about the train.  Also, reading on the train, pretending that other people on the train don’t exist and trying to breathe through my mouth on the train.  All pretty standard transit routines, I’m sure.

But one thing I’ve been paying a lot of attention to recently is the sociology of ‘Who Will Give The Pregnant Lady A Seat’ and my findings have kind of surprised me.  I’ve been getting a seat consistently since I was about 6 months pregnant – with my belly bursting out of my ill-fitting coat.  Actually, let’s be even more accurate.  Since I was about 7 months pregnant, I have got a seat on the packed trains twice a day.  The only time no one immediately offered, I spoke up.  “Hi, I’m 8 months pregnant, can someone please give me their seats?” Two people stood up instantly. Canadians, right? It also helps that David and I generally ride the train together and our routine is that I look short and very pregnant, and David lurks until someone notices me and offers a seat.  It works pretty well.

The interesting thing who offers me a seat, and who does not.  Before I got pregnant and started paying attention to this (beyond, you know, offering pregnant ladies and old people a seat the rare time I had one), my guess about who would offer a seat would run something like: women in their 30s, women in the 40s, women in their 50s, men of any age, teenagers.  How very very wrong I would be.

The number one demographic group to offer a seat? Men between the ages of 30 and 55.  Like, by far and away the majority.  Followed by men in their early 20s.  Followed by women in their 30s, and women in their late 50s, early 60s.  Followed by teenagers.  The worst group of all?  Is absolutely women in the 40s and 50s.  They (the collective they) will often look right at my giant stomach, and then ignore me.  Unlike the men, who if they notice, will almost always immediately offer me a seat.*  It’s interesting.  The women I would expect to be most sympathetic – women who have most likely had children themselves – are the least sympathetic.  Men who are probably far removed from their hypothetical partners being in this state seem the most chivalrous.**  I’m not really sure what broad trends you could derive from this, but it does make the 45 seconds between getting on the train and someone offering me a seat more interesting.

* This is all very me me me, but when you’re short and hugely pregnant and having pelvic floor pain and have some balance problems, getting a seat on a crowded jerky stop-go train becomes a pretty overwhelming requirement for personal happiness.

** Calgary?  Is, in fairness, a fairly chivalrousness town.  You know, the kind of place where men let women enter the elevator first and hold doors.

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.