Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Time to Cut the Hours

A few months back, I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror at work.

Perfected business casual drone of black slacks and some color of cable-knit sweater, shapeless grandma shawl over the shoulders, and a puffy triangle of hair.

"Geez, you're not even trying," I shrugged with indifference at the unfamiliar morphed reflection of elderly-me in a wrinkled shawl and middle-school-me with frizzy, brushed out curls.

Before babies were in the picture, I remember interactions with coworkers that went something like this:

Me: "Excuse me, [name] is here with [company] to see you. They've just arrived, and I've set them up in the conference room."



But one day, and then frequent days, and then regularly, I caught myself having this conversation:

Me: "Hey, were you expecting someone?"

Coworker: "Um, yes, I think so. At 10?"

Me: "Oh, is that what time it is? Sure."

Coworker: "Did you catch their name?"

Me: "Hm, no. It's a woman."

Coworker: "From Bank of America?"

Me: "Sure, she looks like she could be with Bank of America."

Coworker: "Ok, thanks."

Does it say more about the extent to which I lowered the administrative standard around our office, or the outstanding congeniality of my colleague, that he actually thanked me for the information I provided?



And then there's this excerpt from a reply to an overlooked email:

Hi David,

I apologize for this delay. Your email got pulled into a folder that doesn’t get checked very often.

[...important email request fulfilled...]

Best regards,

Charlene

Unfortunately, the "folder that doesn't get checked very often," was referring to my inbox. 


When faced with the overwhelming task of refilling paper in the printer, I found myself choosing the "Hm, cancel print" option more and more often.

If it weren't for my mad OCD and impulsive multi-tasking skills, I'm pretty sure I would have received a "thanks, but no thanks" letter of termination from my company.

Delirious months later, filled with laundry, inexplicably adorable kids, novenas, two car wrecks (no injuries) and extensive research on coupon moms and health insurance alternatives, I finally passed a letter of gratitude and resignation over to my long-suffering employers.

To my surprise, rather than taking the opportunity to hire an ambitious, high-intensity, full-time replacement, they restructured the admin schedule and responsibilities, and offered to keep me around part-time.

And THAT is why they get name-dropped in our family rosary each week, with prayers for their families and business success!

As for me and mine, GLOOOORIOUS! Not that I haven't crashed hard into the doldrums of part-time, stay-at-home motherhood, just that I'm finding the dividends of happy kids and a calm(er) home well worth it.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Real Story

My children must wear collared shirts and dress shoes to Mass on Sundays. "Looking nice on Church Day" has been non-negotiable from my Baptist childhood into my Catholic adulthood. Honestly, each week, we pull it off pretty well.

But I wonder if my need to look perfect at church -- to present my family like a magazine cover of having it all together -- contributes to why some find our faith inaccessible. Am I communicating that God is for everyone from every walk of life in every season of life?

Allow me to share a more genuine story about our family and the unexpected arrival of our first son, Joseph:

We were supposed to wait until one of us had a full-time job with health insurance before getting pregnant. But for a Radio-Television-Film major looking for work in a top-five U.S. media market and an idealistic fine arts teacher in the post-recession market of underfunded school districts, job prospects weren't promising.

And yet, we had discerned this. We knew God called us to each other, to our work, and to our marriage. Though, somewhere along the way, we picked up the wrong assumption that where God calls, financial blessings abound. We did our part -- going to college, completing internships, volunteering in parish and campus ministry, graduating Cum Laude -- why didn't God do his part and make us wildly successful -- or at the very least, Middle-Class comfortable?

This job roller coaster of second-interview highs followed by rejection-email lows was hard to stomach, especially when combined with first-trimester nausea. Yes, into our depressed, financially-unstable world, we were surprised by pregnancy.

We had the audacity to feel a little excited. This wasn't how we'd planned to have kids. We had been following all of the NFP (Natural Family Planning) protocols to avoid pregnancy. But in our disenchantment with a seemingly unattainable lifestyle of full-time jobs and health insurance -- a lifestyle we'd wrongly assumed to be a hallmark of Catholic success -- we found this surprise new life both terrifying and fascinating.

We didn't tell anyone about our pregnancy. We feared the doubtful stares and awkward silences of friends and family as they searched for something-anything positive to say (not that we weren't giving ourselves these looks every day). What good could come of this?

The grace I needed in this lonely space came through the honest testimony of a Catholic mother from our parish. I only knew her teenage children -- each of them creative, joyful, brilliant -- but the story she told me didn't match the picture I saw of them at Mass each week. She shared about her family's joblessness and depression through several unexpected pregnancies over many years.

Hearing the vulnerable struggles of their beautiful family brought me reassuring hope in our early, secret months of pregnancy.

My strong suspicion is that we're not the only ones in the pews on Sunday with more complicated family stories than our "Church Day" presentation implies.

The Savior we worship also had a conception and birth marked by poverty and inconvenience, yet even more, by joy and wonder.

At one of our family's lowest points, God gave us a child. His calm acceptance of our clueless parenting gave us faith in ourselves and one another. And our smiles for him brought smiles for each other.

Our family is in a stable place today because of -- yes, hard work and perseverance, but also -- our government's low-income healthcare program, Medicaid and CHIP, WIC food benefits, and the extreme generosity of friends and family.

We found hope and acceptance in our parish community because a courageous Catholic mother shared her real story.

So let's tell our different stories: Honestly sharing where we've been, humbly admitting our present struggles and imperfections, and together in our parish communities, finding comfort that in all of it, the Lord is with us.

What's your story?


These words took over our chalkboard when we found out we were pregnant with Joseph. They're still there. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My First Part-Time Stay-At-Home Mom Half-Day

Yesterday was supposed to be my first day off in a new transition to part-time work. But as work things go, I was called in to cover for a few hours in the morning. Too passive aggressive to Just Say No, and in a casual show of precedence, I bring my two-year-old with me. (FYI: Uptown investment office, hosting high-profile -- re: wealthy -- international financial managers.) Yes, I'll be happy to come in on my day off, any time! This is Joseph. He likes to change activities every 5 minutes, is really good at climbing and running, and doesn't have an inside voice. I make it home by 11 AM. (Guess they didn't need me as much as they thought.)

On my way home, I write up a mental list of ambitions -- like laundry and keeping the kids alive aren't enough to keep up with. Refinish the kitchen cabinets. Take the kids to Adoration every day. Potty train our almost-three-year-old. Make real food.

Influenced by the happily obedient kids in "The Sound of Music," I want us to have a joyful, singing home. After the 10th repeat of me skipping around the table singing "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart," Joseph quits chiming in with "Where?" and just focuses on cutting his play dough. After another 5 minutes, he asks me to stop too. "No singing in house, Mama. Sing at church."

I feel like I should bake cookies. And make an apron. And dust. But instead I spend two hours creating the perfect coupon organizer during the boys' nap time and do three loads of laundry. (Okay, to be fair, Wally started the first two loads, but as Martha Stewart always says, "The person who folds the clothes and puts them away gets credit for the load."*)

Joseph has this habit of drinking all of the holy water around our house. (You're really not supposed to do that.) And since one of my new ambitions was to become week-day regulars at church, we stop by to refill our little plastic bottles. After the third lap around the holy water font (picture a wading pool about two feet off the ground), I finally catch Joe at the back of the almost empty sanctuary, and drag him kicking and screaming into the foyer. We pass Father Michael and Deacon Phil while calmly on our way back to the car, waving and smiling like we hadn't just wreaked havoc on their most faithful parishioners' afternoon prayers.

Wally sends me a text from work: "I have cell coverage in the control room tonight".

He never gets cell reception at work, so this is clearly a providential sign that I should send him updates on our new part-time stay-at-home mom set-up. "Awesome! I'll text you and call you all evening!"

I start to pull up a picture I'd just taken of Joseph helping Joshua walk, when I get his next text: "Yeah, don't do that".

I stop by the grocery store adjacent to the church on our way home, and realize they don't have carts large enough to buckle two kids. I should have left. But darnit, I'm a stay-at-home mom now, and I can do this! In the frozen food aisle, I dump five Totino's pizzas on top of Joe (seated in the basket, since Josh got the child's seat), which apparently, makes his year. "PIZZA!!!!!! PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA!!! IT'S PIZZA!!!!!!!" he shrieks. One freezer over, a woman shouldering her cell phone while trying to stack Lean Cuisines in her basket shoots me a dirty look. I hold her gaze. You wanna do this? I'm a stay-at-home-mom now. I own this supermarket. 

Joshua's teething, and my work purse isn't equipped with anything to help him out. Note to self: ditch the purse for a diaper bag, woman. I must have looked like such an amateur. I give Josh the coupon portfolio to chew on. Joseph starts opening boxes in the back of the grocery basket. I try to modestly remove a tampon from his tiny fingers -- "What's this, Mama? What's this?" -- and tuck it back into its box, as I notice pieces of paper all over the tile floor around us. Joshua's shaking the coupon portfolio upside down, and it's snowing coupons, everywhere. I realize we're blocking the milk refrigerators as a crowd forms, and turn the cart, escaping down a side aisle. A helpful man follows me. "Ma'am? Ma'am, is this your coupon?" It's for feminine products, and I hastily push it back into the useless coupon portfolio.

We eat a kid-friendly dinner of hot dogs and rice, followed by the. slowest. walk. ever. We get home later than intended, because I didn't figure in Joseph's tendency to stop for every pebble, bug, and unusual piece of grass along the sidewalk. And he's carrying a piece of plumbing pipe (of course).

At the end of the day, we're wiped out from my overly-ambitious part-time stay-at-home mom agenda, but for the first time ever, Joseph poops in the potty.

I text a picture of it to Wally :-)


*That's not true. She never said that. And I'm sure she'd be appalled at my laundry process.

 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Best Purchase Ever: G-BOT

I don't usually buy luxury items. Seriously, we are a stick-to-the-budget kind of family! But I can already say, even with the years that we might be paying this one back, I have no regrets. I would group this with microwaves and cell phones as a necessity, and to be honest, I can't believe the government isn't offering a subsidy for this kind of technology.

I first realized that I was missing a practical amenity while sitting at the DPS office to renew my license. A slow Wednesday afternoon, 100 people from all walks of life, crammed uncomfortably together in 85 plastic chairs, anxious about making it to the next pressing commitment on our schedules, and yet, I noticed, even with all of this frustrated tension in one room, the DPS workers had all the time in the world!

I knew, whatever they had, I needed.

And turns out, it was just a standard-issue (albeit quite pricey) Government Block Of Time.

The G-BOT was such an impulse buy that to be honest, I didn't tell my husband I'd bought one. I could just imagine his response, ”You spent our hard-earned money on some government mass-produced what??!” I figured I could try it out for a few days, and if it wasn't all it's cracked up to be, just resell it on craigslist or something.

There's no going back though. This is the best thing the government has done since Hoover Dam and disposable diapers.

Even just two days ago, I was going crazy with the time crunch of keeping our private company on an insane timeline of clients and managers. I haven't had time to refill my coffee or take a bathroom break in weeks! The G-BOT arrived on Tuesday, and in ONE DAY I have broken down this well-oiled machine! And whew, personally, never felt better!

At one point, my boss even tried the line, "Hey, everyone's paperwork is complete, just waiting on you to process it!” I just sighed loudly, closed my YouTube browser of a dolphin playing with kittens, and gestured toward my new G-BOT as I went on break.

Thank you, U.S. Government!

<><><><></>
I took an extended lunch today. but with my new G-BOT, no one could do anything about it!

<><><><></>
haha, that was thirty minutes ago!

I'm definitely thinking of purchasing another Government Block of Time for home, pretty sure my husband will love it while home with the kids.

<><><><></>
Sorry, Joe, looks like getting your shoes and socks on is gonna be another 30 minutes or so.

Once we get this paid off (or just paid down a little), I'll probably look into getting the Government Box Of Bureaucracy. Now THAT is a piece of work. (But man, you thought the G-BOT was pricey!)