Monday, August 1, 2011

On Working, and Not Working, Etc.

There are a lot of reasons people generally avoid discussing their paying jobs on their personal websites.  Perhaps it's just generally thought of as unprofessional or off topic.  Mainly I think people just know better than to diss the boss online if they'd like to remain employed.  But I must confess, none of those reasons has been my primary impetus for keeping my trap shut about work.  For me, it was all about not freaking out our nanny.

Let me explain.  Ever since I returned to work in January 2008 after having Georgia, the economy has been in the tank, and given the way things have gone in my department as a result, I've lived constantly on the edge of wondering if I'd get laid off.  Many people in my department have.  Sometimes I really worried about it; other times I was unhappy enough at work to really not care if I got fired.  Knowing that our nanny occasionally checks in on this blog, I didn't want to start a trickle down effect of needless unemployment fear by discussing just how crappy things at the office have been at times, because there would obviously have been a domino effect:  if I had lost my job, Steph would have in turn lost hers.  

However, for a number of reasons totally unrelated to anything noted above, last Friday was Steph's last day working for our family after 3.5 years of dedicated service.  She's decided to move on to new endeavors, and while this is not the time or place for me to gush about her, suffice it to say that we wish her all the best and she will be missed.

For purposes of this post, though, the point is that now I can open the floodgates regarding work.  I could go on and on for pages of stories dating back to 2008, but don't worry, I won't bore you to tears.  I just want to say that I am flabbergasted at the number of lawyers who have left my department, either via mass layoffs in 2009, or more recently, of their own volition.  I made the decision this time around to start maternity leave a couple of weeks prior to my due date in the hopes of getting some things done around the house and spending some quality time with Georgia and June before the baby arrives, and already 3 more associates have given notice in my department just since I've been out!  The real problem is that most of the departures have been people I really like, leaving me behind in a less desirable work environment each time.  You eliminate the social aspect of an office job, and suddenly you're just left with "the work," and you realize that you had better really like the actual work a lot, otherwise it's not going to be a sustainable situation over the long haul.  At least that's how I feel about it.

All of this is to say that I've got some soul searching to do over the next 6-12 months.  My job pays very well and is helping our family to save for the future.  It has good benefits.  And in terms of flexibility, it's hard to beat.  So if I need to leave the office for anything from a pediatrician's appointment to a children's music class, I don't really need to answer to anyone about it.  Ironically, on the other hand, I must track my every moment by entering billable time, which I loathe.  There is a lot of pressure and stress associated with that, and with keeping up with hours generally.  In a slow economy, let's just say I'm pretty sick of being made to feel bad or guilty about things I largely cannot control, namely my workflow.  Also, the downside of the "flexibility" of this job is it's portability, meaning that I can do it virtually anywhere, anytime.  It's no secret that motherhood has made me much more protective of my evenings and weekends, and I've gotten a lot less tolerant of the whole logging on from home to do more work routine.  There just aren't enough hours in the day, so it exhausts my patience way more quickly than it used to before I had children.  Joe, I think, is far better at dealing with juggling those demands than I am, or rather, not getting himself into such a funk when he gets super busy at work or has to work from home more than he'd rather.  Put simply, he's better at sucking it up and just dealing.

Another major upside of my job:  generous maternity leave (by American standards, of course).  I'm getting six months off, and for several reasons I have every intention of returning to my firm when my leave is over.  That said, I just don't know about the long term.  I have no idea yet what it's going to feel like to care for three children day in and day out, none of whom are in full time school yet.  But at the rate people have been leaving my department lately, I also have no idea what I'll really be returning to when I do go back.  Over the course of the last three years, sometimes I have felt like I was hanging on to my job by a thread, and at other times, the fact that I'm still there has just felt like "survival of the most risk-averse."  Am I the only sucker not brave enough to take a chance on something different?  And what would "something different" be, anyway?  That's the big question for us as a family -- would it mean jumping to another law firm?  Practicing in house?  Leaving the law for some other corporate gig?  Becoming a SAHM?  Starting a business?  (I've tossed around ideas such as opening a cloth diapering/baby stuff store, pursuing photography more seriously, or more recently, starting a totally nut-free bakery/ice cream shop.  I'm not sure how qualified I am for any of those gigs, or if they'd be profitable enough to justify childcare expenses, but it is fun to dream sometimes.)  In the interest of full disclosure, at one point I was even intrigued by a seemingly crazy infant swim instructor opportunity but decided that I probably wouldn't feel that sense of "getting away" from home if I went to work only to be surrounded by small, undoubtedly crying, children. 

So there you go.  There is no real conclusion I'm coming to here, I just felt like over-sharing since the cone of silence has been removed.  Also, I'm open to suggestions and advice if you have any.

Leaving aside the topic of my job, let's talk for a moment about my not working over the course of the previous 7 business days.  As I mentioned above, Steph the Nanny's last day was Friday the 29th.  That gave me a little over a week to cram in every conceivable project and errand that I had on my rather long "accomplish before baby arrives" to-do list while still having childcare at my disposal.  Now, I realize that I was playing it fast and loose, assuming that this baby would go along with my plans and hold off long enough to still give me this coming week to hang out with Georgia and June.  But given that I'll be home with them every day for the foreseeable future, I was okay with taking that risk.  So, at the outset I vowed not to feel an ounce of guilt about spending an inconceivably large amount of free time doing whatever the hell I pleased rather than doting on our girls.  So, yes, my to-do list included not only medical appointments and a bunch of highly productive, (and sometimes annoying), projects and errands, but also several indulgent sessions of prenatal yoga and exercise classes at the gym.  You know, those classes that I should've been doing for months but instead decided to take up between 37-38 weeks.  Better late than never!

My time off has reminded me of this passage from The Nanny Diaries:
There are essentially three types of nanny gigs. Type A, I provide "couple time" a few nights a week to people who work all day and parent most nights.  Type B, I provide "sanity time" a few afternoons a week to a woman who mothers most days and nights.  Type C, I'm brought in as one of a cast of many to collectively provide twenty-four/seven "me time" to a woman who neither works nor mothers.  And her days remain a mystery to us all.
First off, I have to say that I don't think Steph's job (prior to last week) really fit any of those three categories.  But that being said, I really milked falling somewhere closer to Type C for a week!  It was rarefied air to have no job to attend, (but to still be getting paid for it), all while having full time childcare and no newborn to care for yet!  No, I didn't employ a "cast of many," but I'm sure my days remained a mystery to most everyone involved, since I pretty much avoided staying home so as to make things easier on the girls, Steph, and myself.  Let's just say that given my current physical condition, I could write an entire blog now reviewing the public bathrooms of Chicago.  (Tops:  Potbelly's.  Reliably clean, and not at all problematic to walk in, pee, buy nothing, and leave unnoticed without annoying patrons or staff.)   

It's back to "real life" this week, and I'm looking forward to that, too, since getting to spend all week with the girls isn't a privilege I'm accustomed to enjoying very often.  Of course, that's the rosy view.  I also know I need to build up my mothering chops, and fast!  Now that heading to the office is out of the way for the time being, I've finally found the mental space and time to get truly excited about the baby's impending arrival, but I'm also admittedly quite nervous about juggling everyone's needs in the coming months.  Please wish us all luck; I think we're going to need it!


Susan said...

Have we discussed this infant swim class thing?! Because I have totally considered this myself!! You get certified for that survival swim thing and are suddenly making $20 for 10-minutes of work. Sounds like a good gig to me!

Danni said...

With my current practice, I really can't imagine how I could ever take 6 months off without irreparably stunting my workload. You must not yet be repsonsible for bringing in work/clients? I have no wisdom for you but I'm pretty sure there's no perfect job out there (except for mine of course :p)

Stephanie said...

Wow Kate, I had no idea you were going through those work certainly hid it well. I am glad that you were able to give yourself some "you" time before the craziness starts, you deserved it! Can't wait to see what happens in the next week or so. Give my love to G and J, I miss them terribly already.
-Steph the Nanny (I feel like the name you gave me on this blog is something that sounds almost as heroic as Conan the Barbarian...I like it :)