Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Beyond Full-Time Work-At-Home Mom

I may be a bit in over my head. I have this tendency to take on more than I can realistically handle and then watch with dismay as I allow balls to drop. Now that I'm a mom, and a stay-at-home mom at that, I'm particularly aware of how much time it takes to care for a baby day and night. Dedicated time to focus on work is in short supply.

I expressed my anxieties in my previous blog entry considering taking a full-time work-from-home position. Great news - I got the job! And I accepted it. But I also misunderstood the position. I'll be an independent contractor, not a full-time employee. Nowhere in my contract does it specify how many hours per week I'm expected to work. I'll be paid a set amount of compensation per month to do the work assigned to me, however many hours that takes.

Before beginning the job, it's difficult to know how many hours of actual work will be involved. In my previous two “full-time” career positions, neither came close to needing 40 hours of work per week. Actual work was usually a few hours per day, plus maybe a meeting or two. On an average week, I would say that 10 to 20 hours of work was required of me. The rest of the time, I was “on call” in my office or at home, and could work on other things. But I can't predict whether this new position will be the same.

Surprise - great news - I accepted another new job yesterday! Two new jobs! So now I'm “beyond full-time,” in a sense. I have a major contract that will be my primary position, and I have a minor contract that will be a side job. The new gig will pay commission on funds I bring in. My hours and schedule are my own to work out.

Within the next two weeks, I'll be starting not one, but two new jobs. My six-month-old has become a fast crawler, is able to stand, and is almost ready to start cruising. She can spend more time in independent play, but she requires more careful watching. I'm keeping my childcare options open. If need be, I'll hire an occasional or regular daytime babysitter or nanny, or I'll look into part-time daycare options. I'd love to be able to handle all motherhood and career responsibilities simultaneously, but that may not be realistic.

My favorite part of this extra income: I get to hire cleaning help! I don't know what it says about me that a cleaning service is at the very top of my “to buy if we have the money” list. I've been wanting a regular housecleaner since before the baby was born. Returning to a dual-income family means we can afford it. How frequently outside help will come is still to be decided. Outside help will lessen the burden on me to clean during the day or in my limited spare time.

An unexpected lifestyle change has been the need for me to begin sleep training the baby. Co-sleeping and bed-sharing saved me so much for the first six months of my daughter's life. I was able to more or less “sleep through” the night every night because the baby would barely wake me when she needed to nurse. Having her right there next to me was a sanity saver. I never felt like a stereotypical sleep deprived mom of an infant.

However, the baby no longer sleeps as long and as well as she used to. I got more uninterrupted sleep with her as a newborn than I do now with her at six months old. I feel like I'm tossing and turning every 30 minutes to nurse her or switch her to the other breast. I get so exhausted that I no longer remember to return her to her crib in the night. I wake up in the morning with her next to me, tired, not even remembering that I had picked her up. Co-sleeping is no longer working for me.

Sunday night, I moved her crib to the nursery and set up the baby monitor. For three nights so far, I've attempted sleep training. I allow for middle-of-the-night feeding because my baby is so small, but I return her to her crib after 10 to 15 minutes. Results have been mixed these past three nights. I'll write a dedicated sleep training update when it's all sorted out.

On top of my own life, my husband's path is still open. He may or may not get a job offer that would require us to move across the country in the next month or two. In addition to starting two new jobs, I may also be planning a move, selling our house, and buying a new one. I really don't know how I'm going to balance those responsibilities, if it happens.

In the times of my life when I think I may have to take on more than I can handle, I give it to God. I trust that it will all happen as it's meant to, and that I'm strong enough to make it through. All in all, these are great problems to have, and I'm very grateful.

This is how I wrote this blog entry. Thankfully, her nap lasted long enough.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Working at Home with a Crawler

This is brand new territory for me. My little six-month-old is now so efficient and so fast at crawling, she now needs watching. She is also learning to climb. This need of watching is so very different from her first six months when I could put her down and expect her to stay put. I need to step up my game!

Part of this new period of floor exploration involves examining the pets. When she spots a fellow crawling creature, she grins and shrieks in excitement, then bounces toward them. She’s slow compared to them, so I wonder why they allow her to catch up to them. If they don’t see or hear her coming, then they’re pretty bad at being canine or feline hunters. Maybe they are just lazy and don’t want to move until absolutely necessary.

The dog is the most benign of her targets, simply walking away when bothered. It’s the cats that I worry about. All of our cats have their claws. The baby thinks it’s a fun game to grab at and pull the cats’ tails or pull out clumps of fur. She’s too young to really understand not to do this. Most of the time, the cats just walk away too.

But not all of the time. I saw her approaching our orange cat this morning, but thought nothing of it. I turned my back on her for two seconds and I heard crying. She had cornered the cat who understandably stood his ground and swatted at her. No scratch meant she wasn’t injured, just scared, so it could have been worse.

Inanimate objects also pose a worry. Yesterday I cleared an entire bottom of a bookshelf of decorative odds and ends that she was preparing to put in her mouth. This morning I saw her playing with books on the bottom of another bookshelf. Her climbing attempts lead to falls and bumps.

That photo was taken as I started typing this. The glass used to be farther from the edge. My baby has learned to pull at the tablecloth to bring the glass closer. Smart kid.

How can I possibly get work done as a WAHM with a proficient crawler? I’m more of a free-range parent than a helicopter, so I just let her be. I want her to explore her environment. She deserves the freedom to get to know her own home after months of only going where adults put her. It’s okay to fall on carpet during an attempted climb onto the couch. It’s okay to lightly bump her head at she learns to navigate this world and her body in it. Although I don’t want her scratched, if the cat swats at her sans claws enough times, maybe she’ll learn not to pull.

Thankfully, I work on laptops. I carry my work with me from room to room, near her with every step. Most of the time, I’m sitting on the floor next to her, seeing the world as she sees it, or at least a similar height. As she explores her space, I am nearby enough to spot trouble but also reading or typing away. My presence also makes her feel comfortable and confident, so I don’t have to pause to sooth cries. She has learned to crawl over to me if she wants me (or, more likely, my boob).

And there’s always naps, the blessed breaks I get to try to work uninterrupted. After I prevented my baby from pulling a glass of apple cider onto her head, she climbed right up into my lap, nursed, and went to sleep. Ah, peaceful sleep, perfect times to make phone calls or get anything done on my laptop, just as this blog entry.

Eventually I'll need to buy baby gates and fences, blocking off areas of the house not suited to her. But I'm not there yet.

As she grows in her body and her ability to get into even more trouble, so will my ability to work with her around. That’s my hope, anyway. In case you were wondering from my last blog entry, I got and accepted the full-time work-from-home job. Soon I’ll need to accomplish even more with a little one roaming around. Advice is welcome!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Full-Time Question

In my introductory post, I explained how I came to be an accidental work-at-home mom, part time. I haven’t worked full-time since my baby was born. And if I’m honest, I haven’t worked full-time in maybe a year because there’s not much going on in a company going out of business.

Going from working part-time at home pre-baby to working part-time at home post-baby was easy. I learned how to free my hands enough use my computer while she nursed or slept on me. I became decent at one-handed typing. I started work-at-home momming gradually when she was just a few days old. I was full-swing into when I attended a local workshop when she was five weeks old. We've been rocking it ever since.

Sleeping baby position #1 as I wrote this blog entry.

For me, being a part-time work-from-home mom has been easy (so far). I work projects of interest on my laptop from my living room or back porch while the baby sleeps, nurses, or plays. I’m interrupted constantly and therefore it takes longer to accomplish tasks, but breaks aren’t a bad thing.

I pick and choose which projects I want to get involved with. Some tasks have deadlines and are prioritized. Others are “whenever I feel like it,” such as my professional blog, my book writing, and my reports.

But one thing I am not is an 8-hour-per-day working mom. I couldn’t tell you how much of my day is spent on business. I multi-task and switch things up constantly: email, news, social media, projects, breastfeed, play with baby, change diapers, clean house, prepare food, take care of errands, take care of myself, go to business-related events, and whatever else falls into my lap.

Sleeping baby position #2 as I wrote this blog entry.

Work-life integration is the new buzzphrase and I have it down solid! I am one seamless work-life integrator. But I don’t work 40 hours per week, probably not even half that. I don’t work much right now. But I have excellent work-life satisfaction!

I’m a little nervous that I’m a finalist for a full-time work-from-home position. In a surprising twist, I’m more nervous about getting the job than I am about not getting it! Being rejected means status quo, my life remains the same. I can continue to leisurely work-from-home part-time on whatever projects I choose.

Taking the job means juggling everything around and needing to find solid working hours during the day with many more deadlines and phone meetings. It’s always an unknown whether the baby will remain quiet while I’m on the phone. Probably not.

Position #3 while writing this blog entry - playing! She's not always quiet.

My little girl is a few days shy of 6 months old. Since she refuses to take a bottle, she has been attached to me day and night, attending work-related events with me, even attending an out-of-state conference with me. The thought of putting her in (very expensive) daycare sounds undesirable and potentially unfeasible until she’s older. But the option exists if there’s no better alternative.

Even with full-time work, I think I’d still be able to watch her at home most of the time. I’m considering an occasional nanny or daytime babysitter, someone who could watch her for a couple hours per day or a few hours per week, depending on my needs. Or, maybe I’ll surprise myself and actually be able to work a full-time job from home while watching the baby full-time. Maybe. Am I crazy?

This potential job seems to cater to work-at-home parents. The CEO of the small company has three little ones at home and told me during our initial call (in November!) that the company leans toward work-life balance. Another man I interviewed with who has been with the company for 13 years, has four kids, and praised his ability to be a work-at-home dad. Although not everyone in the company is a parent, it does sound like families come first. If I take this job, I really think I could make it work with a home office and still watch my little girl grow up. (And I do want to add more babies to our family sooner than later, God willing!)

Even more uncertainty is added to this hypothetical life when I consider my husband’s situation. He’s being flown out to cities around the country to be interviewed for a potential big career advancement. His job interview in another state on Monday sounds particularly promising. We could be moving across the country in a month or two.

Moving locations won’t matter to my potential work-from-home employer, but it would mean less in-person business events and meetings for me. Where we live now is a hub for my industry. Where we’d potentially be moving to, my industry isn’t there. Everything I’d do would be online or would require business travel.

I am the kind of person who defines myself by my career: a scientist in the space industry. No, I take that back. I was defined by my love of my industry long before it became a career, as far back as 3rd grade when I wrote a short story about being an astronaut. My passion for what I do “for a living” goes beyond whether I’m paid for it, and some of my current projects are in fact volunteer or pro bono. I love, live, breath science/astro/space. Becoming a mom hasn’t changed that.

Even without this potential full-time position, I’d still continue building my consulting business, part-time. Even with this potential full-time position, I still want to build my consulting business part-time. I know, I sound crazy.

I’ll stick another tick-mark in the crazy box by admitting I might want to homeschool my kid(s) someday.

Too much speculation, too many hypotheticals, too much unknown. For now, I vent my thoughts on the Internet. Decisions will be made later.

Working mom and silly-faced baby at an industry event last month.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What I Learned Taking a Baby to a Professional Conference (Part 2)

I took 5-month-old Josephine to an informal professional networking event last night and reminded myself that I still had yet to write about our adventures at an out-of-state conference together. Rest and catch-up are top priorities after returning from travel. Now I can reflect on the positive and negative of bringing a baby to a professional conference.

Working and playing, as well as we can together.

Community Support

I had a lot of fears about being a working mother after I gave birth to my daughter and it became clear that she was too young to be away from me for long. I worried that I would be seen as less than professional if I brought her with me. I expected negative or inappropriate comments. I would not have been surprised if people had asked me to leave when they saw me with a baby. Babies don't belong in work environments, right?

My fears were the furthest from the truth. Every time I brought my baby, I was welcomed with open arms. Colleagues and new acquaintances loved meeting her and watching her grow. Young women and older men thanked me for bringing her. Only once was I asked not to attend a meeting with her, a rare exception to the warm welcome she's received. She's an instant star no matter where I go. The one downside is that on occasion, colleagues are more interested in talking about her than about business!

Bringing her to one day of the local conference was a test. Taking her on a plane to Colorado, without my husband, for a 3-day conference was the real deal! How would she behave? How would others react? Would I be able to attend the conference talks at all?

I was overwhelmed with the generosity, encouragement, and support from the conference staff and attendees! From the moment we arrived, others offered to hold her, play with her, give her toys (conference swag), and take care of her. Conference staff made her a special name badge. She attracted conference attendees like a magnet. One man thanked me for bringing her because her sounds during the talks lessened the seriousness of the atmosphere and reminded him of home and humanity.

Baby Genius - All Star!

The Noise

There's no way around it: babies make noise and there's no quieting them. I knew that I would be in and out of talks. I just hoped that I would be in more than out.

I lucked out with a relatively mellow baby. She doesn't cry all that much, but she does have her moments. She wasn't feeling well on Friday afternoon, so I hid in the bathroom for a long time, hoping the thick doors would dampen her screams. But worse, I didn't have my phone or laptop because I couldn't return to the conference ball room with a screaming baby to retrieve them, my feet were hurting me in brand new dress pumps, and there were no restroom chairs, so I sat barefoot on the floor not even knowing the time while she screamed and screamed. Eventually she did calm down and we reemerged. Aside from that outburst, screaming fits were rare.

More common were little baby grunts from learning to crawl and play and “songs” from learning to use her voice. When those got too loud and persistent, I needed to leave the room. Sometimes I would walk with her along the back wall by the door, leaving when she was loud and returning when she had quieted. In and out, in and out. While this certainly is not an ideal way to hear talks, I was able to pick up bits and pieces of conversation this way.

Most of the time, she was quiet enough for me to be in the room. Especially when she napped in my lap! During those periods, I could focus on the speakers and pretend I was attending a conference as usual. Except that I was in the back of the room sitting on the floor next to toys, usually.

Conference swag makes for good toys.

Baby Wearing

I wore my baby in her wrap less often than I expected to. There were times when it made sense, such as during a tour of a nearby company's facilities where we'd be walking a lot. I opted not to bring a stroller to the airport, instead wearing her around the terminal. However, during the conference talks, mostly we were sitting down. I tried sitting with her in my lap, but she got bored quickly. Instead, I laid a baby blanket on the ground and let her play with toys independent of me as much as possible. Outside of talks, she would be passed from person to person so much that it didn't make sense to attach her to me. I'm glad I brought the wrap and I did use it frequently, but she wasn't attached to me at all times.

Baby hanging out on the tour.

Hotel Sleeping

I have difficulty sleeping in a strange place. So, it seems, does my baby. We didn't have our normal routine and sleep aids such as her swing, so sleep didn't come as naturally to her. It was a struggle each night to get her to stay asleep. Usually I succeeded an hour or two after her usual bedtime.

I opted not to bring her crib, instead allowing her to sleep in the king-size bed with me. At home, her crib is right next to our king-sized bed so she spend half the night in her bed and inevitably half the night in ours. Co-sleeping works well for us. I didn't even think twice about keeping her in the bed with me while on travel.

Sleeping on my lap.

Breastfeeding Business

No one batted an eye when I nursed my baby during the conference. No one stared. One lady offered to give me her seat if I'd be more comfortable. To clarify, I always use a blanket or wrap to cover us up when she feeds, but I'll continue to carry on conversations like normal.

Brave, Hero and Supermom

I was called all these things for bringing a baby to a conference. I am none of them. I am simply a working mom who loves my career and loves being with my child. I find it interesting that in our culture, we would see this behavior as something to be praised highly with descriptions such as brave, hero, and supermom. In my opinion, this only points to the need to combine maternity and career for new moms and make what I did common.

Thanks for bringing me along, mom!