Saturday, July 23, 2016

Work at Home Mom: Reaching for the Stars, Learning how to Swim

My little girl at 7 months

When I accepted an offer to begin work at the same time we’d be packing up our house to move for my husband’s new job multiple states away, I knew I was crazy. What was I thinking!? Not that I had much choice – my start date was already delayed by my new boss’s vacation and my life isn’t going to calm down any time soon. So, full speed ahead!

I love my career. I spent 11 years studying in higher education and held multiple volunteer and lower-level jobs to get to where I am now: a mid-level expert-in-training in my industry. Since January, I had been staying at home with my baby, working from home and occasionally elsewhere on small tasks and minor gigs. I started my own consulting business and earned a little bit of money, enough to travel for business trips and conferences, but not enough to pay myself salary. I kept searching for the right client that would land me a major paycheck. Finally, I found one. I’m reaching for the stars, which is a fitting analogy if you know I work in the space industry.

The first two weeks of being a for-real WAHM felt like I was drowning in responsibilities. I’d splash and kick, gasping for air at the surface, treading water with all my might, feeling as though I could go under at any moment. The thought did cross my mind once, briefly, that maybe this was a bad idea and I should quit. But I didn’t. I kept on swimming, as our fish friend would say.

It didn’t help that the baby’s worst day since her early newborn weeks was my first day of work. I kicked off that Monday morning with back-to-back phone meetings, during which she was thankfully quiet. Then she became a miserable monster and stayed unhappy for the rest of the day. I got little done. I thought, maybe this is teething for real, then dismissed my speculation. A couple days later, I felt the sharp edges of a bottom tooth popping through. It wasn’t all in my head after all.

Getting little done continued to be a theme. I began to question whether I really could be a stay-at-home mom and work a real job that required my focus and dedication. But to be honest, my circumstances skewed my perspective. That first week, I spent far more time on the phone and in meetings with various people who were to help me prepare our home for sale, sell our home, move our belongings, house us temporarily, and help us find and finance a new home. I felt like both a poor mother and a poor employee as I spent hours and hours in personal logistics planning.

The baby, now 7 months old, is developing separation anxiety. She could be well-rested, well-fed, and surrounded by toys, but still throw a fit if I’m not holding her when she wants to be held or if I leave the room and don’t allow her to follow me. But a baby cooing or fussing into the earpiece is not a professional sound over a business call. Twice I placed her safely among her toys in the living room, then shut myself in my bedroom closet (two layers of separation!) in order to muffle her screams to make a call. It felt undignified to conduct business on the floor of my closet. I’ll have to develop a better solution.

After a minor break-down last week, I decided to step back and regroup. I’m only human. I put so much pressure on being an excellent new employee, I was placing unrealistic expectations on myself. I’m sure that my new bosses 1) didn’t expect a brand newcomer to excel at the job immediately, and 2) understood that moving is stressful and would cut me some slack. I spent the beginning of week #2 focusing on what I could do in the moment and not getting too worked up over feeling behind.

Until I actually was behind. Wednesday came to a close and I had barely worked all week. Frantically, I worked extra hard these past two days, catching up. I woke up early Thursday morning, stayed up late Thursday night, and woke up early Friday. And do you know what? I was just fine. I accomplished what I needed to accomplish. No one cared that I hadn’t fully finished one of my tasks yet, no one but me. I called it quits Friday afternoon with a task still open, and the world didn’t end.

You might recall from my previous entry that I actually scored two new jobs, one major and one minor. I had to put the minor gig on hold. I’m at my capacity at the moment. Until I’m out of this house (one more week!), I can’t take on anything else. But that job isn’t urgent and the big boss still hasn’t signed my contract yet for an “official” start, so I feel justified in delaying.

My husband and I have talked about hiring help once we move. In his current position, he can occasionally work from home. When he’s here and not in a meeting, we share child caring duties. I leaned on him Thursday and Friday while I worked hard to catch up. But when he begins his new job in two weeks, he’ll be in the office every day. I may hire a part-time nanny or babysitter to help lessen my load. I’ll play that decision by ear.

I am so fortunate – I love my job. I’m able to do satisfying work in a field I’m passionate about. My company is very family-friendly, which is what drew me to the position. It’s a small company with everyone working from home offices around the globe, some of which are also work-at-home parents. It’s a friendly, supportive atmosphere. I feel so very grateful to be able to stay home with my little girl and participate in my chosen career!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Standing, Moving, Working, Panicking! I Am Not Alone

It's a holiday here in the States, but my mind is racing. I start my major contract job in one week. I already received a meeting invitation for Monday 9:00 AM. I've been told what my first assignment will be. It'll be a lot of work, right off the bat! I spent energy during the interview process convincing them that I can do the job, so now I need to convince myself. That won't be easy. I'm my sharpest critic.

Meanwhile, I have a draft of a contract to finalize and sign with my side job. Assuming that's completed next week, I'll be starting both jobs at the same time. I've been putting it off, not because I can't be bothered with approving a contract, but because I already feel overwhelmed. And I haven't even started yet.

Meanwhile, my little girl is racing ahead of milestones at a stunning pace, leaving me, well, stunned. She went from lunging to crawling to standing to cruising furniture in a matter of weeks. She's only six months old! I hadn't planned to babyproof the house yet. I don't want to babyproof a house I might move out of in a few weeks. Today my husband and I bought baby gates which had been on our to-do list for two weeks since she discovered the dog's food and water bowls in the laundry room. I've had to mop up the floor and change her more times than I'd like to admit. It also takes work to chase her away from trouble, constantly keeping and eye out.

A developing baby means more independence from me. She can play mostly on her own for a large part of her waking hours. She can crawl around the majority of the house now that I've blocked off areas and babyproofed as she found trouble. With my laptop, I can follow her around and get stuff done at the same time. I'm sleep training her, so now she can even nap without needing me to nurse her to sleep. Progress. Baby steps, figuratively and literally.

My husband should get a final written offer from his potential new job on Tuesday. We're in limbo until then. My mind is racing with plans but I can't solidify them until I get the okay. On Tuesday, if it's what he wants, we're all go go go to move, sell our house, and buy a new one. And everything that comes with that. Every little thing. Anxiety! Stress! Panic!

We met with our real estate agent this morning, the same woman who helped me buy this house two years ago. She toured the property, making a verbal list of everything we need to do to best sell our home. Every comment she made caused me to shrink with stress and anxiety, as if her words were hammering me on the head and stealing my future time and happiness. Between starting two new jobs, caring for a mobile baby, saying goodbye to friends, and packing, when were we going to find the time to handle all these home repairs and touch-ups?

Then the seasoned real estate agent – God bless her – said those beautiful words: “I'll handle it.” She advised us to move out, vacate the house, then she'll take care of the rest. I could have hugged her. Then, my husband mentioned as an aside that his potential new company's relocation package included packaging and shipping all of our belongings. He'd forgotten to mention that before. And just like that, the weight lifted.

Yes, this house needs a deep clean, and trimming of this, and caulking of that, and the list goes on and on. Yes, an entire household needs to be packed up and moved across the country. But I don't have to do it. It doesn't have to be my responsibility. It doesn't need to weigh down my to-do list.

Yes, we need to find our new home, and the sooner, the better. But we won't buy sight unseen. So I need to put that worry aside and just wait. Yes, I start two new jobs in a week. But no one will expect me to have a major report done on my first day or even my first month. There's always a learning period.

If you haven't noticed, have a tendency to want to handle everything all by myself. I'm very independent. I know that I'll do it the way I want it to be done. Then I overload myself and wonder why I can't complete things the way I want to. But I really can do this, with help. With lots and lots of help.

I am not alone.

This is a lesson I'll need to repeat to myself again and again. It's okay to let others handle things. It's okay to let go of the things that others can do, and often do better. It's okay to outsource, to hire help, to ask for help, to remove some of the weight from my shoulders and put it on someone else. It's not all on me. I don't have to do everything, and that's okay.

And with this realization, I'm back to enjoying my holiday. My husband, my baby, and I are all hanging out as my husband plays guitar. We'll join our neighbors for a party this evening. I can enjoy my (possibly) last weeks in our home and our city. I can focus on my friends, my family, and my new adventures. I can live my life without overwhelming stress. I just need to let go. Let go and let God, as the saying goes.