How to Wear Converse in Almost Any Situation

You may be wondering why you would wear Converse sneakers so often that you would need a guide for it. Fair question.

For starters, you can send the same messages with sneakers that you can with flats or heels: celebratory, outgoing, mysterious, even professional. Heels have a tendency of holding me back. For an ex-New Yorker who still walks fast, and now has to chase my toddler, I’ve become a bit of a sneaker evangelist.

Figuring out how to make sneakers work in various settings feels way more productive than forcing myself into shoes that stress me out. They’re generally accepted in most social situations these days: holiday parties, dates, play dates, networking events, and even the occasional wedding or job interview will allow it (the really good ones, anyway). Chucks can be paired with many levels of dressiness, provided you pair them with care.

Converse, in particular, can make you feel like an extrovert – especially if you aren’t. Something about their classic cool attracts people of all ages. I made the discovery when I bought a red, low-top pair on a friend’s recommendation. On a jam-packed meeting day, when I needed a mood boost, I wore them to work. (I should note that I am lucky to have the most casual of office-casual work settings.)

8 a.m. – Daycare

At daycare drop off, every toddler in the room came over in some sort of trance, pointing one sticky finger and saying, “Red shoes!” It was like offering fire to an ancient tribe.

9 a.m. – Coffee line at work

When I got to work, the first two coworkers I saw complimented my shoes and told me they’d had Chucks in college and missed wearing them. Extensive college reminiscing ensued.

10 a.m. – My desk

Two more coworkers approached and complimented the color of my shoes. Red is a big deal.

10:05 a.m. – My desk

A third coworker joined us and showed us all a photo of he and his wife sporting matching maroon Converse high tops. This started a heated debate: Is matching your spouse cute, or overkill?

6 p.m. – HOME…already!

Just about every meeting started with a friendly sneaker-related chat, setting an upbeat tone for the day. I made it through every meeting smiling.

When I dug into the history of the brand, it all started to make sense. Chuck Taylor All Stars have been around, in one form or another, since 1917. They went from basketball shoe, to Olympic shoe, to taking over 80 percent of the shoe market by 1957.

In the 1970s, fancier athletic shoes took off, and Converse became the rebellious choice for their simplicity. Which such a long history, they seem to hold a meaning for everyone.

So, I’ve developed some simple guidelines for wearing Chuck Taylors. In the spirit of the shoes themselves, I encourage rule breaking:

Consider color

1 | If you’re wearing brightly-colored Chucks (I recommend crisp red), make your outfit one of neutrals.

2 | If you’re wearing neutral Chucks, add a pattern, a pop of color, or unique accessory elsewhere in your outfit, and let the Chucks fade into the background.

Consider cut

1 | Because Chucks give off a laid-back vibe, make the item closest to them – your pants – a little more tailored. Skinny jeans work great, and a pair with a slight crop work even better.

2 | For skirts, anything above-the-knee or below-the-ankle looks good with Chucks. The midi-skirt generally doesn’t work. It creates too many horizontal lines across your leg in too small a space. This confuses the eye, and the effect can be disorganized when you’re trying to look pulled-together.

That’s it! Simple rules for a simple shoe.

A version of this article originally appeared on the author’s site, PowerSuiting.com.

The Crock-Pot and the Promise of Having It All

The promise that I could have it all – a successful career and a family – sat on my countertop. My co-worker had given it to me on the last day before my maternity leave. “Some pork chops, a can of soup. It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing,” she told me. I spent the next few months researching recipes while I nursed a newborn and, on the night before I returned to work, I pulled it out.

The slow cooker. It was my ticket to the promised Neverland of working mother success. The next morning I dumped in a few chicken breasts, potatoes, baby carrots, and a bottle of Italian dressing before heading out to cry on the doorstep of my baby’s daycare. Throughout that first day, the pot rattled away on my countertop while I sat at my desk, likewise rattled.

The original Crock-Pot hit the shelves in the 1970s, marketed to women who were working outside the home. “Cooks all day while the cook’s away” an early advertisement boasted. With new technologies and shifting societal attitudes, women were liberated from the kitchen, and heading into the office in droves.

I’d never been particularly chained to my kitchen before owning a Crock-Pot. I enjoyed cooking, and often whipped up big meals for my husband and me, but many of the meals in our early years of marriage were frozen pizzas eaten in front of the television, a PB&J scarfed down over our laptops while we studied for grad school exams, or the occasional takeout we grabbed to celebrate turning in a paper. Convenience and affordability had been a top priority for our meals for a long time already.

I finished graduate school the same month I found out that I was pregnant with my first son, and set out to look for jobs with a growing belly. When I wasn’t looking for work, I found myself debating my choices constantly. Did I really want a career? Yes, I did. But could I manage starting one at the same time I was starting a family? I wasn’t so sure about that.

Stepping into the world of a working mother was new and foreign to me. My own mother had stayed at home, and although she dusted off her Crock-Pot occasionally to cook chili on days full of field trip chaperoning and PTA meetings, she mostly was at the stove every evening from 5-6 p.m., cooking something warm and delicious. I worried my own family was going to suffer the consequences of me working, sentenced to eating frozen pizza every night, a fate my husband probably wouldn’t have complained about, but one that made me worry I might be failing in my top priority – being a mother.

I came home on my first day as a working mom to a meal that was inedible. The carrots were mush, the chicken dry, and the sauce overwhelming oily. It was a disaster, and while our budget sensibility typically does not permit waste, we threw the remainder out. I could have it all – the career, the family – but that didn’t mean I could do any of it well.

Returning to work as a mother took some adjusting but I eventually found a rhythm that worked for me. I worked three days a week, and on my days at home I did laundry and answered work calls while my son nursed, praying that my colleagues couldn’t hear his slurping in the background. Some days and some meals were failures, other days it all came together.

Early on, I spent a long day in committee meetings at the state Capitol, and when they stretched past the time daycare closed, I picked up the baby and we headed back to attend the meetings together. “He’s a smiley baby,” my boss had cooed when she saw him. “You must be doing something right.”

My in-laws also had been at the meetings and when they finally concluded, we all came back to our apartment to eat chicken Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, courtesy of my slow cooker. My mother-in-law declared the meal delicious, and although I think that might have been due to hunger being the best sauce, I took the words to heart. I was doing something right.

It’s been over 40 years since the Crock-Pot played a supporting role in women’s liberation, but working mothers still rely on the slow cooker. It’s probably not a coincidence that over two-thirds of mothers with children under the age of 18 now work outside of the home and 83% of households own the handy countertop appliance. Today, the internet can shout the Crock-Pot’s promise of having it all even louder, and blog post after blog post provide recipes promising ease and perfection.

Over my first year as a working mother, I slowly learned that no matter what a recipe promises, chicken breasts cooked for eight or nine hours will be dry and flavorless. Chicken thighs were far preferable, and large cuts of beef even better. I also realized that if I didn’t like a food before I put it in the slow cooker, I still wouldn’t like it when I took it out.

I accepted that my family would survive if we ate frozen pizza or fish a couple of times a week. And my husband and I both came to the realization that figuring out what was for dinner wasn’t any more my problem than it was his. I could have it all, but maybe not every single day.

The crockpot was an invaluable tool during those years, but it did not deliver in its promise of letting me have it all. It did give me simmering curries and stews to come home to in the evenings, but what I had wanted was to pursue a career and to have a family. I had that already, even if I had no idea what to serve for dinner. 

Pumping at Work: Rights, Tips, and Tricks

Balancing a career and a breastfeeding relationship can be a juggling act. These tips, learned from experience, can help.

Balancing a career and a breastfeeding relationship can be a juggling act. Knowledge of your rights as an employee, as well as learning a few practical tips, can help ease the transition from maternity leave back to the workforce as a pumping mother.

After the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, nursing mothers received the right to express milk at work. Given breastfeeding’s numerable benefits for mother and child, it made sense for the federal government to encourage breastfeeding, and in doing so, improve public health. The changes in the law also gave more women an opportunity to maintain the feeding relationship they wanted to have with their child.

The changes in the law protected nursing mothers in two major ways:

Providing a place to pump

The law requires employers to provide nursing mothers with a space to pump. This space must be “shielded from view, and free from any intrusion from co-workers and the public.” Most importantly, the space must not be a bathroom. Even if the workplace is small, a company cannot require employees to pump milk in a bathroom.

Providing time to pump

For up to one year following the birth of the child, employers must give women a “reasonable amount of break time” to express milk. The law does not dictate the frequency or duration of these breaks as these vary from woman to woman.

Exceptions

Not all women are protected under the law. Companies with 50 or fewer employees are not required to provide break time to pumping mothers if they can prove doing so causes an undue hardship on the employer.

It is also not mandatory that employees receive compensation during their break time. But if a mother pumps during a break that is typically paid (such as a lunchtime), employers must pay for that time. Salaried employees are not protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and are therefore not covered.

Even if a place of work is not legally required to offer breastfeeding support, doing so can be in their best interest. Breastfeeding, because of its health benefits, leads to savings in health care costs as well as reduced absenteeism among parents whose children are breastfed.

Providing support to nursing mothers also helps businesses retain employees. One study showed companies with lactation support programs retained 94 percent of their employees after their maternity leave, compared to the national average of only 59 percent. Retaining employees leads to a better bottom line for companies.

Room for improvement

Unfortunately, for many women in the United States, a short maternity leave can often lead to a decrease in breastfeeding rates if a women goes back to work before breastfeeding is well established.

One study found that women who returned to work between one and six weeks were less likely to breastfeed than those who went back 13 weeks or later. While protections for pumping women are helpful, perhaps the best way to encourage breastfeeding is to ensure that all mothers have access to paid maternity leave.

Even with federal law offering many protections for nursing mothers, pumping at work can take some getting used to. Getting into a routine that works for you will help the process become second nature. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Refrigerate your pump parts

If you follow any piece of advice for pumping at work, make it this one. There is no need to wash your parts and use valuable break time every time you pump. Instead, simply stick all of the parts that come in contact with milk in a ziploc bag and place in the back in the fridge until the next time you pump. At the end of the day, simply stick the parts into the dishwasher – no hand washing required.

Be honest with your coworkers

Giving coworkers a quick heads up about what you are doing behind closed doors can help prevent some awkward scenarios later on. While no one typically wants to discuss their breasts in the workplace, it’s better than having someone walk into your office unannounced while your shirt is still unbuttoned.

Once, I had to spend a morning in meetings at the state capitol. I figured my only options for pumping were either in my car in sub-freezing weather or in the third floor bathroom, which was rarely used. I opted for the bathroom, and moments after setting up, a stream of librarians from a conference poured in, holding the door open for a line that stretched well into the hallway. Had I thought to ask my coworkers ahead of time, they could have directed me to the pumping room readily available for use.

Find a routine that works for you

For a time, I barely made enough milk to send to my son’s daycare for the next day. I found that squeezing in an extra pumping session, either in the morning after my husband took him to work, or in the evening after he went to sleep, helped me build a backup stash in the freezer.

Working close to the daycare, I also frequently popped over on my lunch break to nurse. It meant one less time strapping myself to the pump, and I enjoyed the break and the snuggles with my baby. I also found myself more refreshed and focused in the afternoons.

Take care with your bags

I played around with different types of milk bags until I discovered one that worked the best for me (Target’s Up and Up brand, least likely to spill all over the shared mini-fridge). I also found that laying my bags flat to freeze, and then stacking them in a shoebox – oldest at front, newest in the back – kept my freezer from becoming a mess.

Lastly, if you’ve pumped for weeks in preparation to go back to work, do not leave your freezer door ajar for several hours unless you want to see all your hard work in a puddle on the floor.

Trust me on that one.

Debate Club: A Different Take on the SAHM vs. WOHM “Battle”

Two moms, living both sides of the work/stay home experience offer words of support and encouragement to one another in our latest Debate Club.

debate club, heart

Dear Stay-at-Home Mom,

by: Kelly Bay

You are crushing it.

Our eyes meet almost every morning as we drop the kids off at school. My day has already been chaotic, and I’m sure yours has, too. Making breakfast and packing lunches and convincing small children to wear clothing are not jobs for the faint of heart.

I notice a toddler hanging from your leg as I chase mine down the hall. We both smile, thinking that they may be in the same class someday. Somehow we manage to get our older children to their classrooms and our younger children back to our vehicles. It’s a monumental moment in the day, a shared struggle of parenthood.

I wanted to let you know that as a mom who works outside of the home, I am so impressed by you. I know that there’s this myth that we are somehow at odds with each other, but I think you are amazing, and I’m grateful for everything you do.

For what it’s worth, I never call myself a “working mom,” because I know you’re a working mom, as well. Somehow you feed your toddler lunch while spooning pureed peas into your infant’s demanding mouth. You sing lullabies and rehearse colors and walk the dog with a baby strapped to your chest.

You welcome your older children home from school and prepare yet another snack and field the demands for TV time and help locating sports equipment. By the time 5 p.m. hits, you’ve done multiple loads of laundry and repeatedly picked up the house and wiped your children’s faces approximately 100 times, none of which would be obvious to an onlooker at this point.

And then you start your second shift, rushing from appointments to soccer practice, picking up the neighbor’s kids along the way. You make dinner and help with homework and give baths and read bedtime stories. You fill your spouse in on the details of the day and upcoming events and manage multiple schedules like the boss that you are.

On a good night, you may get 30 minutes to crash in front of Netflix before someone needs a drink of water or a third trip to the bathroom, or for you to check for monsters under the bed just one more time.

Maybe you chose to stay home with your kids because of their special health issues or your spouse’s demanding career, or maybe it wasn’t a choice at all. The astronomical cost of childcare makes the decision for many parents and I know firsthand that the workforce can be a brutal environment for moms who try to do both. There is a good chance that the company you worked for didn’t offer the flexibility or support parents need to continue with their careers.

The time you have with your children at home is precious, but I know that it’s exhausting trying to juggle so many different roles and meet everyone else’s needs. Your own needs often fall to last on the priority list and you sometimes worry that you’re too distracted when you interact with your kids.

You have no reason to be concerned. My mom stayed home with us and I’m sure she was distracted most of the time but, honestly, all I remember is that she was there for us, always.

It’s a common misconception that you’re “off” all day. I know that your day actually never ends and you don’t get the breaks that I do. Lunch out with friends is a highly orchestrated and extremely rare occurrence. Dropping your kids off at daycare to attend a doctor’s appointment of your own simply doesn’t happen.

I also know that your daily work, with both its struggles and beauty, is overlooked in our culture. You notice that people talk more to your husband at parties. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom your input into conversations seems to be less important. You may even wonder what your former colleagues or classmates think of you now that you’re “just a mom”. The value of being a caretaker is minimized in our society because there isn’t a dollar sign attached to it. That sucks, and I’m angry for you.

I want to tell you that I see you. I want to tell you that your work is important. More than likely you’re committed not only to your family but to all of ours. I’m not always available to help in my son’s classroom, I’m grateful that you take time out of your day to be there. We often need assistance getting our kids to extracurricular activities, I’ve noticed you are one of the first to offer help. You take constant requests for PTA involvement and coaching positions and field trip chaperones and you rarely say no.

I love that I’m able to work outside of the home, but it’s vital for our sons and daughters to see the value of a loving, involved parent from others, too. I watch you demonstrate this every single day.

You are making the world a better place and I wanted to thank you for that.

In case you don’t hear it enough: job well done.

Sincerely,

A Work-Outside-the-Home Mom

debate club, heart

Dear Working Mom,

by: Jackie Semmens

You are crushing it.

It’s 7:30 in the morning, and I’m staring out the window with blurry eyes watching you load your kids into the car to head to daycare, or walking them to the bus stop. I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, much less gotten my kids dressed, but you’ve been up for two hours already, answering work emails, packing lunches, waking sleepyheads up and making them breakfast. It’s not even 8 a.m., and you’ve accomplished plenty – yet you’re already worrying that you’re slipping behind.

I wanted to let you know that, as a stay-at-home mom, I am so impressed by you. I know there’s this myth that we are somehow at odds with each other, but I think you’re amazing, and I’m grateful for everything you do.

For what it’s worth, I never call myself a “full-time mom,” because I know you’re a full-time mom as well. You’re pumping milk on your lunch break, fielding calls from the school in the middle of the day – no matter how many times you’ve asked them to call your husband first because his schedule is more flexible than yours.

You’re clutching your cellphone under the table during a meeting, hoping daycare won’t call to tell you your baby’s fussiness turned into a fever. You’re folding laundry well past bedtime, or spending precious dollars on a housecleaner so you can spend a few more hours with your kids. You’re burning the candle at both ends and trying to figure out if you can light the middle, too.

Even when five o’clock rolls around, you’re off to your main job, walking into the insanity of tired and hungry kids. You’re up all night with a teething baby who only wants to nurse, and a toddler who had another bad dream. Even if you have some help watching your kids during the day, you’re never off the clock.

As a mom and an employee, you are giving 200% of yourself every day. I bet that you’re amazing at what you do, because research shows that mothers are actually more productive in their jobs than their childless counterparts. When you get to the office, there’s no wasting time on Facebook. You plow through your to-do list because you don’t want to stay late tonight. Having kids makes you acutely aware of how precious time is, and you know that it is not to be wasted.

I know those efforts aren’t always rewarded, however, and are too often overlooked. There is a good chance that you aren’t earning as much as a man doing your job would be, especially if you’re working after spending some time at home with your kids. You’re worried about telling your boss that you’re pregnant again, and trying to figure out how you will make it through an unpaid maternity leave.

That sucks, and I’m angry for you. As a stay-at-home mom, I know how little our society values caregiving, and how hard you work when you’re on maternity leave. Trust me, I know that you deserve to be paid.

Working is the right decision for you, the best way to support your family. But I know that you occasionally wonder if you’re spending enough time with your kids. In all likelihood, though, you are spending more time with them than your parents spent with you, whether they worked or not.

And even if your time is limited, take heart that research shows quality far outweighs quantity. Take it from someone who spends almost all of her time with her children – there is nothing inherently magical about it. My kids love their dad, whom they see on evenings and weekends, just as much as me.

Stay-at-home mom to working mom, thank you for everything you do. The nurse holding my son’s hand as he gets his blood drawn, knowing exactly how it feels to see your baby cry? His teacher, teaching him his ABCs and how to play nicely with his friends? Their pediatrician, diagnosing life-threatening allergies? All working moms. These women touch our lives every day, and I couldn’t do what I do without you.

Maybe you’re punching numbers into a spreadsheet that will never personally impact our lives, but I still wanted to say thank you. What you’re doing is so important. Our sons and daughters need to see women in all sorts of careers, and our world benefits from having mothers in the workforce for their abilities, perspective, experience, and skills. You’re at the forefront of social change, and I want to thank you for fighting the good fight.

Right now, staying at home with my kids is the balance that works best for our family. But when it’s time for me to re-enter the workforce, I’m glad to know that there are mothers out there now who have been proving that women can be great mothers and great employees. You’re making the world a better place, and I thank you for that.

Occasionally, my afternoon walks take me past a local daycare. I watch parents pick up their children, ready to head home for their second shift. Wave if you see me. I’m the one pushing a stroller, thinking that you are an amazing parent.

In case you don’t hear it enough: job well done.

Sincerely,

A Stay-at-Home Mom

Giving Up Stability Because I Want Something More

The time for everything is now. And as much as I adore being a mom, I also want to be more.

This post was previously published on the author’s blog

I am a lot of things: mom, daughter, sister, wife, friend, writer, neighbor, runner, reader, coffee drinker, meal planner, potty trainer, school volunteer, etc. All of these labels make me who I am in this world.

My current stage in life dictates that motherhood pretty much overwhelms everything else. And I’m okay with that, because the experience of raising little humans to become grown-ups is pretty rewarding. However, the stay-at-home mom label is hard for me. My kids are the best part of my identity, and I do not take all of the joy they bring me for granted. But, as much as I adore being a mom, I also want to be more.

It’s difficult to be a parent who watches her kids full-time, but wants the recognition of also working on outside interests a few hours a day. Prior to making the commitment to be a freelance writer, I was blessed for many years to work for an insurance company that allowed me to maintain sporadic hours and work from an office in my basement. It was a great gig that kept my children in my care and me on a strict daily schedule. I worked with wonderful people and I was definitely in “like” with my job during our 11-year run together. However, through a long string of events I came to the conclusion that I needed more for myself and it was time to break up with my employer. It really wasn’t them, it was me.

I had been tossing around the idea of quitting my job to focus on writing for a while, but it took the better part of a year for me to acknowledge a change was necessary. When my sister-in-law was killed by a drunk driver, I received a kick in the gut, which propelled me to re-examine my life choices.

I was always telling myself that once all of my kids were in school I would have more time. But honestly, the time is now for everything. It would have been much easier to start writing once my children were all in school eight hours a day, because scheduling interviews and finding inspiration requires blocks and blocks of time. Unfortunately, I know too well that tomorrow is not a guarantee, and waiting can just lead to regret and inaction.

By following a dream, I now make less money, face more criticism, and hear rejection a lot; while also still being spread a bit thin with my stay-at-home mom duties. However, I’ve never been happier. I was content before in a job I liked, but I am now overjoyed in a role I love. The learning curve of change can be discouraging, but I know I’ve found my calling because there is zero dread. There are definitely nerves, but it feels good to be in my mid-30s and getting butterflies again.

I realize that I’m fortunate to be in a position to follow my dream. Outside support from friends and family can be a strong motivator. Any guilt I have about giving up a steady paycheck comes from myself only, because I think everyone else around me can tell that I’m doing the right thing. Encouragement from others is the absolute best, and reinforces that being surrounded by people you love makes the world so much sweeter.

It may be hard at times to balance (and battle) demands that go along with wanting more in life, but hopefully embracing this ambition makes me come full circle to be a better mom, daughter, sister, wife, friend, writer, neighbor, runner, reader, coffee drinker, meal planner, potty trainer, school volunteer, etc. 

That Time I Tried to Work and Mother Simultaneously

Being a work-at-home mom isn’t the easiest gig in the world. Especially on the days my 4-year-old wants nothing to do with the “work” part.

I love being a work-at-home mom, but sometimes my four-year-old daughter stages protests over that “work” part.

The other day I raced home from her speech and physical therapy sessions for an hour of conference calls with my editor. We made it home with eight minutes to spare. In my head, I was fist bumping myself for my amazing juggling skills.

I got said four-year-old settled on the couch with a drink, a snack, and some entertainment so I could head to my office and take these calls. We had the “Mommy has to work for a bit, but then we’ll do something fun” talk. Do you know this talk? I’ve had it many times: A bargain I strike with a preschooler so I can be a work-at-home mom. She agreed, and I was the definition of Having It All in those eight minutes.

Then the first call started. It was a video call, and a few minutes in I noticed a small head pop up on my screen next to my right arm. I turned to look, and there was my child, stealthily creeping up on me while I tried to focus on my editor and the researcher on the call.

She refused my quiet requests to “go play.” She began to noisily protest that “Mommy can’t work right now,” and at one point she noticed the faces on my computer screen and actually yelled at them. “Leave my mom alone! She not work now!”

I left teaching so I could freelance and be home for my daughter, managing her two weekly sessions of speech therapy, OT, PT, her preschool, the insurance, evaluations, appointments, and follow-ups. An interrupted phone call? Psssshhh, I’ve got this.    

My sewing table was next to me, so I grabbed a spool of thread without dropping the work conversation. My kid loves thread, I have seen her spend half an hour unraveling it and dragging it around the house. I thought it would keep her busy long enough for me to finish my first call and get her re-situated before my second call started. I am working mother, hear me roar.

I put my headphones on in an attempt to drown out her play noises and refocus. My favorite headphones, a bright orange birthday present – and though it was working beautifully. And then my call went completely silent.

I looked, and there was my headphone wire, cut in half. There was my four-year-old, holding the scissors like she couldn’t believe she really, actually did it. I couldn’t believe she really, actually did it, either.

She knew almost immediately that she was in trouble and began to cry. I didn’t even have to give her The Look. I took off the dead headphones and tried to keep the call going while my daughter sobbed and wandered off into her room.

My wonderful editor had no idea what was going on, she just knew there were tears and distractions and a small child, so she wrapped up the call quickly and gave me 10 minutes to try and get a handle on things before starting our second call.

I found my four-year-old and tried not to shoot lasers at her from my eyeballs while I calmly (but sternly) told her to never, ever do anything like that ever again. I told her that cutting wires is very dangerous. I told her that Mommy has to work sometimes, and that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean she isn’t still my favorite small person. She’s already sorry, I know she’s sorry.

She cried a little harder until she got the last of it out of her system, and I did not lose it. I’m pretty proud of that last bit, because in the moment, on that phone call, I was fairly positive that I would.

Again with maybe eight minutes to spare, I calmed her down, get her settled in our bed with a snack, a drink, and entertainment. I promised her that after the phone call we would do something fun and tried to explain that her future happiness and privileges depended on her not interrupting this second phone call. Thirty minutes, that’s all I was asking.     

When I logged back in, only my editor was there. I was actually early! I showed my editor the headphone wire, explained what happened, and we shared a wide-eyed moment of astonishment and begrudging respect for this child who made it known in no uncertain terms that sometimes my juggling doesn’t work for her. The call went on, the work got done, my daughter and I went and did something fun.

I pushed away any guilt I may have felt for simultaneously working and mothering. I texted my husband a photo of the cut wire, and I told my writing group of moms. There was a lot of sympathy, but mostly there was laughter. She went there, she really went there.

The four-year-old may think I’ve got some nerve, but she is four. By the end of that second phone call she’d forgotten all about it. And by the next day, she was grabbing one of my notebooks and pretending to be a writer. And in a few years, hopefully she’ll understand that it is perfectly alright for a mom to be something else sometimes, even just for an hour. And I think, I have got this.

Besides, I can replace the headphone wire, and her occupational therapist would have really loved her scissor grip.

Why I’m Happiest When I’m Leaning Out

Sometimes it takes some starts, stops, and rearrangements to find the balance of work and motherhood.

“Wow,” I thought as I looked around the VIP crowd at a grand opening party. 

I was 22 and had just graduated from college. Instead of taking the popular route and gallivanting through Europe, I chose to jump start my career in public relations and advertising with an unpaid internship. I spent that summer learning the ropes of event planning, facilitating media requests, and boosting my resume with name-brand clients.

I missed out on adventure travel, and stories about hopping from hostel to hostel, but I was thrilled when my unpaid experience landed me a full time job in advertising. I thought I’d hit the first job jackpot when I got an offer from a large, international advertising agency. 

My first couple of years at the agency were spent working long hours on tedious projects. I was less than thrilled with the actual work itself, but enthralled with the perks that came along with the role. I played foosball with my creative coworkers and took full advantage of all the socializing at work.

The agency was known for throwing epic parties on their deck that offered sweeping views of Puget Sound. I loved feeling like I was a part of it all and, before I knew it, our client began offering me tickets to local sporting events, movie premieres, and hip, city happenings. I began traveling for work. I went to San Francisco and Boston. I reveled in client dinners eaten in restaurants I’d otherwise never dine.

But the hours were long and all consuming. I began to question if my current career track was really what I wanted for my future.

After getting married and moving out of the city, I traded in the travel and exclusive event invitations for a predictable job. I gained valuable industry experience, but found myself bored and missing the adrenaline rush my former job provided. I pursued my master’s degree to fill the void, fully intending to put my new education to good use in a more vibrant role.

My well-laid plans didn’t quite come to fruition. Our daughter was born shortly after I graduated with my master’s degree and my mother heart strings pulled me to devote my time to her for a while. But the lure of the fast-paced career stirred in me a couple years later when I got the opportunity to work on a global brand on their advertising team. Soon after I was dining at trendy restaurants again and meeting with magazines and agencies from New York and Los Angeles.

Working was energizing. It was fascinating to be involved in such, high-profile, international campaigns. But I was also sacrificing for it. I’d regularly tell my daughter I’d see her at swimming lessons but find myself caught up in unexpected meetings. I would be hours-late to a long, over due date night with my husband because I was tied to my desk desperately trying to make a crucial deadline.

One Sunday afternoon I was prepping for my work week while my husband and daughter played happily together. It dawned on me that this wasn’t how I wanted to be spending my Sunday afternoon.

I decided it wasn’t worth it. I was missing too many critical moments that meant more to me than any exciting job ever could. I was pregnant with our son, and I knew I didn’t want this type of work stress with a new baby and a three year old to manage at home.

I walked away from it all, opting to take time off and then return a year later to work in a less pressure-filled environment.My current schedule is regular and predictable. I’m home every night for dinner and bath time.

Sometimes I long for a little more thrill during my work day. Sometimes I crave an after-hours launch party. But then I remind myself of all the perks of my current gig. It’s a flexible job that allows me to work from home when I need to.

I’ve been able to spend time in my daughter’s classroom, and not a single work crisis has kept me from my family since I began this role. Every day I leave work on time, and every day I melt when I return home to see two smiling faces.

I have the work-life balance I want but, more importantly, I realize that my role as a mom is my best job yet.

How I Got Fired From My Job For Being a Mom

I was fired for speaking my mind about my needs as a new mom. I was a working mom in a place where moms are not the preferred employees.

When I became a mom I was tutoring for one of those companies where rich people send their kids.

Well, actually, when I became a mom I was on unpaid maternity leave from my tutoring job because tutoring jobs almost never hire full-time tutors, and that means you don’t get benefits like maternity leave when you work for them.

I was a dedicated employee. I showed up on time. My students liked me. I kept working until the week before my due date. I did things like play indoor Frisbee and basketball as motivators for my students, even late in my pregnancy.

When I was on maternity leave I received several messages from students who were desperate for me to return.

Things were going well.

businesswoman

 

But when I came back, I was not welcomed as kindly as I’d hoped.

My availability had shifted a bit, as it does when one has a baby, and I was hoping to ease back into the job by only working three or four days a week. I didn’t think this was a big deal because even people who had been there for years were only available three or four days a week.

But I still offered the necessary time slots and even took on unnecessary hours.

I was instructed to pump my breasts in the bathroom, which really bummed me out at first until I looked it up and realized IT’S THE LAW TO NOT MAKE MOMS DO THAT.

So I brought up some different location options with my supervisors. One told me that the toilet scene had worked for another girl who had worked there before.

I guess I was supposed to buck up and be like her. But instead I said that it just wouldn’t work for me. Not because I have a lot of clout at this place, but because I knew I had the literal law to back me up.

They couldn’t say no. But they could and did make me feel weird about bringing it up. I was made to feel like I was being needy and annoying.

Thankfully, the next day when I came to work they had set aside a tiny room for me to use for pumping. I felt like they were suddenly a little bit scared of me for standing up for myself and knowing my rights, because they kept asking how I liked it.

They wanted to know what I thought of the fancy “new curtain” they put in the room so that no one could see me pumping through the window. I was like, “HEY FIVE MINUTES AGO YOU WANTED ME TO DO THIS ON THE TOILET, so forgive me for being apathetic.”

As the weeks went by, my hours started to get cut, supposedly because there weren’t that many students.

Meanwhile, the company was hiring more tutors. I also noticed on the schedule that tutors who had been hired after me were being given hours that were in my availability range.

Just because I had become a mother didn’t mean I had become an idiot.

I realized then that I was being “phased out.” But I wasn’t going to go without a fight, so I worked my ass off.

As I said before, I was no slouch when it came to teaching (I have many years of teaching experience under my belt), but I started to work even harder, saying all the right things and schmoozing with all the right people. The company gave evaluations to its tutors every week or so, and I was hitting those bad boys out of the park.

If I was going to get “phased out,” I was sure as hell going to know it wasn’t because I was bad at my job.

A few weeks later, I wrote an email to my boss saying that I could use more hours and asking if there was anything I could do to increase my hours.

My boss responded by saying that it was really just the current need (including two full paragraphs on the number of students and the hours they came in for tutoring, etc.).  At the end of the email, he mentioned that I should look to my recent evaluations to see any changes that needed to be made.

He then copy-and-pasted the text from my most recent evaluation with a few things upon which I could improve.

Of course, having worked there for a year at this point, I knew that all evaluation sheets included sections for things we should continue doing and sections for areas where we needed improvement.

I had been told on numerous occasions that there were always areas where everyone could improve, so the improvement section always needed to be filled in, no matter how well the employee was doing.

I knew that this was just his way of saying “there is always more to work on!” and that if he actually had a concern about my performance, he would have

1. Emailed me about it first, and

2. Brought it up in person with me at some point.

But he didn’t. My performance wasn’t the issue. I actually thought, “Okay, maybe they aren’t trying to phase me out.” I supposed I could have been imagining it.

I had done what I needed to and requested more hours, so I was confident that my boss would at least do what he could to help.

Going to work was just a strange ritual that had almost no return on investment.

Not so. On the next schedule, my hours were even less than they had been before. Not more; not the same amount; but less.

And the time slots were, yet again, being filled with recent hires.

I knew that my availability wasn’t exactly what they would have hoped, but this was unacceptable. I was already making pocket change at this point, so going to work was just a strange ritual that had almost no return on investment.

damn

Thankfully my husband came home from his job before I had to go to work.

If childcare had been necessary,  I would have been making something like $158 a week.

I was furious. The people I had so enjoyed working for pre-pregnancy now seemed to wish I didn’t exist. I felt like now that I had a consistent life and wasn’t young and new and shiny and willing to put up with the lack of consistency in the schedule, I was being thrown aside.

My employee friends kept asking me why I was taking so much time off and I had to tell them that it wasn’t on purpose. I was being treated like someone who was dispensable because I spoke my mind about my needs.

But I was not going to let that happen. If I was going to be dispensed, at least I was going to speak up about it.

So I responded to my boss’ email with a much longer one. To this day it is one of the writings of which I am most proud, though only two people (my husband included) ever saw it up until this point. I have pasted a bit of it here below:

“I believe we hold the highest standards in terms of our students and their needs.

I do think that this circumstance (and perhaps a few others) prove that _______ could use improvement as far as holding those same standards of for its employees.  What I mean to say is that I think if you considered this a little more, you would see that it is just as important to give the employees the empathy they deserve (in my case that would mean understanding that I am using the tools I am given to get the childcare I need, which happens to come at the cost of some availability).

I also believe it is important for ______ to produce consistency in the entire office, which means trying to retain its team members and incentivize their stay.  In my case that means seeing that I am one of the tutors that has been at _______ for the longest time.  I am sure that the company would prefer to avoid a high turnover rate, and thus would rather retain those team members who have already put in the time to deserve their place.  I consider myself one of those people.  Therefore, I think it would behoove the center to put those values in place for me in this circumstance.  I also think that, though my schedule is inconsistent, there are ways that the center could still fill in the gaps each week – whether it be doing office tasks, preparing for events, or other necessary jobs.

Regarding my performance, I am aware of the necessary refinements that were written on my year review documents, and I have made improvement since then (c.c. my most recent evaluations).  Please let me know if you have questions!

Best Regards (I didn’t really mean this at this point),

Brigitta”

I sent this email out on a Tuesday, and returned to work the rest of the following week. During that time my boss was conveniently out of the office or on calls during all of the hours that I worked.

The following Wednesday I was told to go to my boss’ office. I was relieved, because I thought it meant he wanted to have a conversation about my email.

But he didn’t say anything about the email. Instead, he told me I was fired and handed me an envelope with information about how I was allowed to talk about the company.

I had been fired for a week now, and he had only just gotten around to telling me.

I was being treated like someone who was dispensable because I spoke my mind about my needs.

I looked in the envelope and found a form that had been filled out the previous Wednesday (the day after he had received my email) that noted that I was to be let go. I had been fired for a week now, and he had only just gotten around to telling me.

Furthermore, the reason for my termination was “poor work performance.” I laughed aloud to see this sit on my desk on top of my recent evaluations (filled to the edges with things that I had been doing well and with only one or two notes about improvements that could be made).

One week prior I was an employee who was only getting cut from the schedule because of the company’s current need and now I was being fired for “poor work performance.”

All of this because I knew I wasn’t being treated fairly and spoke up about it.

Stylish filing cabinet office storage in empty offive after hour

My husband urged me to file a complaint against the company with the EEOC. So I did. All of my fellow-employee-friends agreed that I had been unjustly fired and offered to be references for the application.

After months of back-and-forths, the case what shut down because, as I suspected, the company’s requirement to record areas for improvement’ in every evaluation basically meant that the company always had evidence on file to support “poor work performance.” They had the paperwork ready at any given time to fire someone for no good reason.

It was difficult to accept that all of the work I had put into my job had culminated into being fired for speaking my mind about my needs as a new mom.

When I look back I see the struggle of being a working mom in a place where moms are not the preferred employees.

I tell myself to look back on my time there as a learning experience that gave me a way to make money during my transformation into being a mother. But most of the time when I look back I just see the struggle of being a working mom in a place where moms are not the preferred employees.

I see the cowardice of company leaders who are tired of dealing with people who speak up for themselves. I see the pain of this happening a hundred more times for a hundred more moms like me in the future.

My story is not a traumatic one. I know other parents have had it far worse than I. My story is a simple one that can easily be played off by them as “poor performance” and by me as my having a job that “just didn’t work out with my schedule.”

But I choose to tell it like it really was for me because I know there are other stories like it that deserve that same reality check.