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

Sunday is the one day each week that my kids have to wear collared shirts and shiny dress shoes. I don't know why it's so important to me that we pull off looking nice together as a family on "Church Day." 

I wonder if we're part of the reason that our faith is inaccessible to many. 

When curious guests walk into our churches, hoping to encounter the One, they're welcomed instead by an overwhelming facade of families who have it all together (ours included). And no doubt our hypocrisy seeps onto the pews, and confuses those who come for Truth and Beauty, encountering instead another magazine cover of perceived perfection.

We need to tell a different story. Not of perfection, an easy life, rule-following, or perpetual family bliss, narratives that fill the empty context behind "Good!" when asked how we're doing. I've been sharing that account for awhile now, so here's a true story about our first son, Joseph.


We were supposed to wait until at least one of us had a full-time job that offered health insurance. But this was 2008, and jobs like that just weren't being offered to idealistic student teachers in dying fields and RTVF majors in one of the largest U.S. markets.


We were so disillusioned, after following the advice of Those Who Have Their Lives All Together, going to college and proudly graduating with our Bachelor's degrees. Hundreds of job applications later, meticulous resumes transformed into ill-formatted lists in the early stages of "Apply Online" technology, and we're two depressed newlyweds realizing life doesn't pass out cash, even if you make all the right stops around the board and pass Go.


The housing market crashed, property tax revenues kamikazed out, and panicked school districts everywhere gutted fine arts curricula and cozied up classrooms with 30 kids. I filed my crisp, fresh-inked teacher's certificate behind my diploma at the back of a closet at my parents' house.


When people talk about how lame it is that unemployed people fall out of the job market, the vigilante blood of my Mafia ancestors wants to break their knees. Genuine hard work is pretty disheartening without cash dividends or some sign of future income. And the roller coaster of second interview highs followed by rejection letter lows is hard to stomach. Especially when combined with first trimester nausea.


Yes, into our hopelessness entered our Little Joe.


As newlyweds without health insurance or predictable income, we had the audacity to feel a little excited. This wasn't how we'd planned to have kids, but in our disenchantment with a seemingly unattainable world, this surprise new life was terrifying and fascinating.


Following the well-intentioned advice of not telling anyone about the pregnancy until we were through the first trimester, we said it was because if anything happened in the early weeks, and we lost our baby, we wouldn't have to share it with everyone. (Hello, slap in the face to community love and support, anyone?!) 


In truth, we just weren't ready for the questioning, are-you-stupid stares of friends, and especially family, awkwardly searching their minds for something-anything positive to say. (Not that we weren't giving ourselves this look every day!)

A year earlier, a woman shared her family's story with me, that they had gone through years of joblessness and depression, all experienced through several pregnancies. You never would have guessed it looking at her welcoming home and loving family. To me, she always seems to project extra light, and her kids -- oh my gosh, her kids -- are off the charts in their joy and creativity and craziness. Her willingness to share the reality of their struggle brought me hope in our early, secret months of pregnancy, when most days, I was fighting despair and fear of judgment.


Our young family has made it, because of our government's low-income healthcare program, and then an opened door to stable employment and health insurance, and now, a new healthcare co-op (Samaritan Ministries), which let us exchange opposite full-time shifts with crappy employee health insurance for calmer lives and more time together.


My strong suspicion is that we're not the only ones who didn't follow the "safe" and sanctioned route to family life. At one of our lowest points, God gave us Joseph John Bader II. Our smiles for him brought more smiles for each other, and his calm acceptance of our clueless parenting gave us faith in ourselves and one another.


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


The God we belong to doesn't have one suburban, middle-class plan for each person, culminating over millennia in the United States' gold standard of 40-hour-a-week jobs and employee-sponsored health insurance. 

I'm not sure why I've been trying to cram our life circumstances into this ideal.

Let's be the diverse Church that we are, not pretending perfection or posing each Sunday for a family portrait in the pew or idolizing a lifestyle that just isn't us. Let's share our crazy, unpredictable, wonderful, heart-breaking, hopeful life stories, and in so doing, share our ultimate Story that Jesus Christ is our Source and our Summit, and every life has purpose and hope by His life, death, and Resurrection!



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!

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

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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.

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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!)