The work of motherhood: Susannah.

Our final poster in this look at working motherhood is one of my oldest friends. Susannah and I have been friends since elementary school, and I couldn’t have been happier when we both ended up moving from Kentucky to DC in the same summer. I have loved getting to watch her welcome two little girls into their family over the past couple years, and I have cheered her on as she and her husband walk the long road to adoption. They are in the final stages of bringing a little boy home from El Salvador, and she and I have candidly talked over the years about the need to hold loosely to any work-life balance, because needs and desires change as families change.

_DSC5644b_webHi! I’m Susannah…follower of Jesus, wife to Josue, mom to two little firecrackers, Elise (3.5) and Lydia (1.5), and owner of Authentic Portrait.

I started my business 8 years ago, straight out of college while engaged to my soon-to-be husband. By the time we had our first child just over 4 years later, I had a dreamy photography studio and had no plans of staying home full-time. In fact, I’m not even sure my husband and I ever even had a conversation about if I would because we both knew that I would continue working. Since my first was born I have waxed and waned in how much I work, and come to a pretty happy 20-26 hours a week outside of the home (not counting the many late nights at home :D), and for this season of life it feels right. The ability to be with my girls half of the week, playing in the yard, taking pool trips, finger-painting one work of art after another, creating meals we enjoy, and even trying to keep some semblance of order in our home is really amazing and I don’t take it for granted.5-GF092016-webI remember soon after I had Elise clients and friends would ask me how everything was going with a baby and a business and I would often respond that it was good, and that I was just trying to figure out the right family / work balance. One sweet client, who was also a working mom, chuckled and told me I just might spend the rest of my life looking for that balance because it is so hard to find, and is ever-changing. And man, was she right. My husband and I have had many a late night conversation asking sincerely how we’re doing at this balance thing. Are we working too much? Not enough? Missing important things in our parenting? How can we be better? Do we need to make some changes? The ability to re-visit our “norm”, have a spouse’s loving perspective and always be willing to keep our priorities in line is so important to us.

Two words come back to me when I think about life as a business owner and mom.SJL_Paris_57_web

ENOUGH

It can be exhausting and overwhelming to try to meet so many needs. To grocery, plan meals, do preschool drop off, wash the clothes, unload the dishwasher, sweep up the cheerio dust, pick up the craft supplies, kiss the booboos…and in another world to respond quickly to clients, finish another blog post, complete an order, post on Instagram, photograph a session, design an album, keep up with the marketing plan etc etc. So often I look at a week ahead and wonder how on earth it can come together. If I’ll have enough…or be enough. And the answer is a resounding no. Experience has taught me that I can’t possibly do it on my own, and when I try it is disastrous. What a relief it has been to allow myself to recognize and remember that truth. I lean hard on Jesus who promises that HE is enough, and that his strength is made perfect in my weakness. And I lean in to my sweet husband who truly partners with me in life, family and even business, making this all possible.

PRESENT.

I’ve also learned how important it is to be present, wherever I am. When Elise was young, I’d put her in the baby K’tan and hammer out e-mails and blog posts, but as she grew, it didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t fair…to her or to my work to try to work while with her, so I made the decision be fully present. For me that means I try really hard not to work when I’m with my girls. In the past I’ve used nap time as work time, squeezing every possible minute out of it and refusing to even get up for lunch or a potty break at times (eek)! Now that I have more consistent hours & days that I’m in the studio for work, nap time is more flexible. Sometimes it still is business work and other times it is work around the house. And on the work side, being present means I don’t take my kids to the studio, even if I don’t have any meetings or shoots scheduled. This has saved me immense frustration, and allowed me to be much more fruitful in my time both with my family and in my work.SJL_Paris_44_web.jpgI love what I do, and I really do love working outside of the home…for me I really believe it makes me be a better mom (this confirmed by my husband :). Most days (not going to lie and say every day), I am genuinely excited about the day to come…whether at home with my girls or at the studio with my clients. The dress code is comically different…heels, makeup, a polished outfit for one, yoga pants, oversized tank top and sunglasses over naked eyes for another.

So for now you’ll find me coffee drinking, photo taking, park playing, heart praying and life dreaming as we navigate this whole parenting thing.Processed with VSCO with f1 preset2017-04-16 09.48.37*The first photo is Susannah’s studio partner Amanda, and the second and third photos are by Katie Mitchell.

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The work of motherhood: Fran.

 I met Fran when she lived with some of my best friends during college. I’ve loved following her parenting adventures over the past couple years, as she hits the perfect balance between hysterical and heartfelt. If you follow Fran on Instagram or read her blog, you know that she talks about parenting, literature, and life with a refreshing wit and candid honesty. I was so happy that she agreed to share today in one of our final posts about working motherhood about the ways that marriage and children can force you to make big career changes. DSC_8594-EditI was raised by an amazing single mother. She was everything to me. She also had to be everything: mother, father, guardian, leader, authority, and friend. In my own stumbling through motherhood for only three years so far I have to continually remind myself that I’m not meant to be everything and also – how did she do this alone? Motherhood is the deepest of joys and the greatest of challenges.

I’ve never clamored to hold babies, and I am not overtly maternal. I’ve always wanted children, but being a mother has never been my only dream. In some ways, that has been helpful to me – but on the flip side – on long days of mothering, it is a battle for my mind to remember I am neither my circumstances nor my job. DSC_8425-2

Before children, I was working as a flight attendant when I met my husband. It was my dream job, it was my coming-of-age story. It was all we had known as we dated, planned a wedding, and became newlyweds. But I knew with each passing month as we built a foundation for our marriage that it didn’t align with the vision we had for the family we hoped to have one day. It was a big and scary (and sad) decision for me initially, but I said goodbye and haven’t looked back.

So we started a new chapter of permanent life on the ground. I got a new job as a digital media manager with a business I loved, and we were excited for what the Lord had in store for us. Very shortly after, I found out I was pregnant on our first anniversary. DSC_8415

During my pregnancy, when we discussed what life would look like once we had our baby, the decision was an easy one for us. It made sense for me to be home – my husband made more money, and we didn’t feel it necessary to pay for daycare when I could be with our daughter instead. Very fortunately, the job I left was one that I was able to do from home. We proceeded confidently and anxiously awaited the tiny human’s arrival.

We had a little girl at the end of a beautiful Spring. She made me maternal, she made me fiercely protective, and she changed my mind forever about babies as I now have absolutely no chill around them. Give me all the babies. (This obsession with babies has only deepened since becoming the parent of a full-blown toddler…but that is an entirely different post 😉 )

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When my husband went back to work, our daughter was three weeks old. I laid out a variety of snacks and beverages on our coffee table and we laid together on our couch, sleeping in between episodes of Scandal and Gossip Girl. (I have sophisticated taste in television programs). It was one of my favorite summers of my life. I got to do the same thing two years later as we welcomed our son and we enjoyed my husband’s generous paternity leave and tried to quickly adjust to life with two kids.

Our seasons of life right now are widely dictated by our children, and that’s both okay and to be expected. I have loved the time when I am home with them, nursing round the clock and doing puzzles and pretending I am not the one eating all the goldfish crackers. I also get so excited for the times when work takes me out of the home. I feel vibrant and love being around other adults and being challenged creatively. My husband encourages me in this as he also sees how life-giving it is for me. IMG_0828

I’ve heard so frequently from older women in my life that they see it is particularly challenging to be a mother in this age of information. We have unlimited access to information about everything. Millions of different car seats and strollers. To vaccinate or not. To stay home or to keep working. How they should be carried, how they should be sleeping. It’s exhausting, and I have to remember that everything is not in my control. I am not going to do everything well. Whenever I hear things about “balance,” all I can think is that it should really just be “there’s a mess somewhere.” One day you’re killing it as a mom and behind in your workload. One day your inbox is empty but the house is a mess and your meal-planning extends only to Wendy’s.

We do best to hold all of our plans, rhythms, and dreams loosely. We get the baby on a schedule, and we’re a well-oiled machine for a couple of weeks before there are new teeth poking through tender gums and everyone is tired again. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Parenthood is hard, and we don’t know what we’re doing, and we’re all trying to make the best decisions we can. It’s a wild ride and I’m glad it takes a village. The village is varied and full of different life circumstances, and we could all use some cheering on as we nurture the souls of the next generation to know they are deeply loved and capable of great things.

“This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore it is to be done gladly if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other. God looks for faithfulness.” – Elisabeth ElliotIMG_0361

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Henry is one!

Spring2017-246I’m not sure how, but Henry turned one this week.

One.

As in, an entire year has been spent with this amazing boy under our roof, destroying our stuff, wreaking havoc on our sleep, and making us laugh and cry. It has been the best year. Even if it has included so many hard, bad, or just plain miserable moments, it has also included some of the best and sweetest moments, ones I couldn’t have even imagined. The way he laughs uproariously when I peek around the counter as he eats in his high chair. The smell of his head when he burrows against me during post-nap snuggles. The feel of his tiny hands on the back of my legs as he tries to stand up and get my attention.

We celebrated his birthday last weekend, and I will be honest – quite a few things went wrong in preparing for his party. I had visions of a classy and composed park party, with a delicious feast, miniature and perfect smash cake for him to destroy as he wore a cute party crown, and a hoop to make 20 feet long bubbles and wow Henry and his tiny friends. Bunting in the trees, big balloons, wicker baskets of blankets for our friends to spread in the grass, framed pictures of different months scattered about.Spring2017-205Y’ALL. I was delusional. Here is how the planning went:

Go to Costco and get cake and bags of chips the size of sleeping bags. Remember you got pretty napkins at Ikea a couple weeks ago.  Make a Chat book with pics of Henry at the last minute and toss it on a table. Text family and neighbors to see if anyone has a card table and some chairs. Beg a friend to make a sign. Schlep stuff to park, including bunting you pulled off Henry’s wall.Spring2017-200Spring2017-198Spring2017-201Spring2017-202Spring2017-203Spring2017-204Spring2017-207Spring2017-208Spring2017-209Oh and that bubble hoop? Total failure. True, I didn’t exactly follow the instructions on making the bubble mixture…. but still. Spring2017-211Spring2017-212Not that it mattered, since the kids (and adults) all loved the wands I grabbed at the check-out line at Aldi a couple weeks ago.Spring2017-220Spring2017-219Spring2017-213And let’s talk about the smash cake. I tried to make one the night before the party, but something went horribly awry in the icing process and the whole thing crumbled into a sight akin to the poop emoji. So instead of offering it to Henry, James and I just ate the whole thing standing in the middle of the kitchen late at night. That’s us, winning at parenting since mid 2016.

But as you can see, Henry loved his party anyways. Spring2017-214Spring2017-218Spring2017-226Spring2017-231Eventually, through sacrificial eating on my own part, we convinced him that the cake was not actually an affront to his sensibilities, but something delicious to be consumed. And then he made us proud. Spring2017-235Spring2017-239Spring2017-249Spring2017-251If the point of a party is pinterest perfection – we failed. But it isn’t. It’s a celebration of one year with this kid and the mess of a job that we do parenting that still somehow has him thriving.  It’s a way to gather with the village who has come around us as we figured out how to do this family thing and relish the fact that we are doing it, imperfectly, but wholeheartedly.

Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer joy of being this kid’s mom.  On the days where I am emphatically not enjoying motherhood (and those happen) I still do not have the slightest wish to be doing anything else. The past year has been a long introduction to the amazing sidekick, the loyal friend, and the devoted comforter that I never could have imagined wanting. I’ve spent a year watching Henry’s personality develop. He’s an extrovert, that ginger baby of mine, eager to be in the midst of activity and easy to laugh. He loves noise and crowds, has very little fear of strangers, and tends to be a tad overly aggressive in his affections. He is enamored with putting objects on his head and then chortling when they fall behind his back and loves to race pot lids down the hall. He is inquisitive and destructive, constantly testing any limit or boundary. He loves nothing more than when he can sit in between both his parents. He likes to clap to music, prefers broccoli and scrambled eggs over all else, and has ripped the left knee out of all his pants because of his funny stanky leg crawl. He is intense in his emotions and predictable in his patterns.

He is ours, and that is everything.

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Happy birthday Henry Wilberforce. We love you with everything we are.

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PS: I didn’t write a full birth story, but here are some highlights, including the absence of contractions until after 7cm, and the total glory of that sweet sweet epidural.

 

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The work of motherhood: Leslie.

Having babies at the same time of some of our closest friends has been the biggest blessing. Because when you are in those early parenting trenches, you want as many people dug in there with you as possible. Leslie had her daughter just over a month before Henry was born, and we have talked about the joys and difficulties of balancing family and career so much over the past year. When I asked Leslie to share some thoughts about why and how she returned to work, she gave me an actual memorandum complete with numbered points. Because the decision to pursue both motherhood and career involves more planning and structure than we like to think, but also allows a fullness that can be beautiful. Thanks Les for sharing how you are balancing working motherhood!20-FF09042016My name is Leslie, married to Stephen and we have a little one-year-old daughter, Ava. We live in Alexandria, Virginia, and I work in policy in Washington, D.C.. I work away from home about 40 hours a week. Most of that is in the office four days a week—Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, I work from home. When I am at work, I am in meetings and briefings most of the day. And I absolutely love it. I spend most of my free time and date nights (poor husband) talking about the ins and outs of this issue or that one.

Sometimes I don’t know how we came to the decision for me to work outside the home. It was a process of one small decision at a time. I’ve been conflicted about what path I would take since high school. Ever since I started working, I’ve been incredibly passionate about what I do.

I’ve swung back and forth between thinking that I would definitely stay-at-home or definitely return back to work. My mom decided to stay-at-home and many of my friends have chosen to either stay-at-home or work part time from home. I admire their decisions so much!

For the past few years, and especially since we got married, the question began to loom over us. Stephen and I eventually came up with a game plan to make the choice as easy as possible (though it never is!):

  1. We would keep both options on the table. For us, this meant that we would attempt to be in a place when we had our first so that we would have the financial option for me to stay home. It also meant that I would be in a family-friendly office. I never wanted to feel “stuck” in a decision or situation that just didn’t work.
  2. We wouldn’t view the choice as an “all or nothing.” I can work full time for a season, work part time, work from home, or stay home as needs change. What might make sense and feel right now for our family doesn’t have to in a year or even a few months.

Eventually, the decision boiled down to wanting to do both. I wanted to be Ava’s mom and to continue in my career. After we realized the what, we figured out the how.View More: http://theartinlife.pass.us/laborday2016From my husband, to family, to friends, to our child care partners, I have so many people in the trenches with me to help me through the difficulties:

  1. Husband: Throughout this process, my husband has been my greatest advocate. He has always been right there to encourage me. There are definitely times when I feel like I am at the end of my rope or not spending enough time with this or that. Stephen reminds me that I love what I do and how fulfilled I am at my job. Plus, he does at least half of the house and yard work.
  2. Child care: Finding trustworthy child care was a huge part of returning to the office. I spent most of my second month of maternity leave figuring it out. Child care is one of the many areas where a community of moms was essential. A friend of a friend who lived in Chicago walked me through the “nanny share” process. DC has one of the most expensive child care markets in the nation, so whatever we did was going to be expensive. I had our name on several day care centers waiting lists, but as I ventured down the nanny share path, it just felt right, emotionally and financially. How it works (because I had no idea before I was pregnant): you and another family who have similar hours/days/location needs hire a nanny together. The nanny can come to one or both houses and cares for both children together. First we found the other family by posting our logistical needs online and meeting up at a local coffee house. It felt like blind dating! We interviewed nannies together with the other family. I am so thankful for the wonderful woman we hired. She is loving and caring–Ava smiles every time she comes in the door!
  3. Friends: I am so thankful that we were able to have kids around the same time that some of our closest friends have had kids. It’s the simple things, like knowing on Friday night that we can see great friends and put our baby to sleep at their house or go for a walk together. It’s also clutch to be able to text someone, “why has my 4-month old regressed to taking 45 minute naps!?”

Here are some tools that help me “balance”:

  1. Schedules: Like Hannah, I love me some Baby Wise , though I totally recognize that it’s not for everyone. I am generally a scheduled person (this is the 3rd list so far…). When I leave in the morning, it’s so comforting to know that Ava is going to sleep, eat, and play at certain times and will be (mostly) happy doing so. It was also a godsend that she was sleeping through the night when I started working again.
  2. Meal planning. During every Sunday afternoon nap, Stephen and I divide and conquer. He does the laundry and I prep all of Ava’s breakfasts, lunches, and most dinners throughout the week so that it’s a 5-minute task in the morning
  3. Work hours: Keeping my hours relatively stable and working at home on Fridays are essential for me. My office is unbelievably understanding and family-friendly. In fact, watching one of my female bosses gracefully balance working full time and mom-life that helped me take the plunge.

The choice to work in or out of the home is so incredibly personal and dependent on each family’s needs and each mom’s desire. For us, the blessing is how much I love my job and I love being a mom. I wake up every morning—Monday to Sunday—excited about the day to come. I count myself unbelievably lucky to be able to do both.View More: http://theartinlife.pass.us/fordsfall2016

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The work of motherhood: Bekah.

I’m excited for Bekah to share today in our working motherhood series, because on one hand, she and I are on opposite ends of the parenting spectrum, just as we live on opposite coasts. She is the crunchy, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, elimination communicating organic sort of mom, while I sleep-train, can’t stomach kombucha, and had to google what elimination communication was (but then thankfully, Bekah wrote about it here!). We have babies close in age and when we were describing our ideal birth experiences to each other – they were direct opposites. But Bekah is a great mom, and the way that she talks with confidence and joy about her parenting decisions reminds me of the beauty to be found in households that look different than my own. I admire her intentionality in creating a home environment that is counter-cultural and I was so pleased that she agreed to share about the choices she has made to make it happen.IMG_3084Hi all, I’m Bekah. Wife to Jeremy for almost four years, Mom to Harrison who recently turned one, cat-mom to three kitties who are varying degrees of crazy. We all live in a one-bedroom apartment close to Venice Beach in Los Angeles. I often chuckle about ending up in Los Angeles, because I am a very quiet and practical person- two words not commonly used to describe LA and its assumed lifestyle. The culture Jeremy and I have been focusing on in our family has a sort of gentleness and slowness to it. As we have made parenting and family decisions over the past year, the deciding factor has been finding ways to keep our family very close together and growing an attachment-style household in the way we are raising Harrison. Bed-sharing, baby-wearing, nursing on demand, elimination communication, etc- it is with the mindset of these ideals and more that Jeremy and I knew we didn’t want to seek outside care for our children. Even before we had Harrison, it has always been very important to us that one of us would stay home as the primary caregiver.

Jeremy has a consistent full-time job in a company he’s been with for over five years; I am a birth and post-partum doula with a work history of nannying and babysitting for many, many families. When we were first expecting, our loose idea was that I would stay home for a few months, and then build up a small post-partum doula business and find a babysitter who could watch Harrison a few hours a week, and potentially be on call if I was to do birth doula work. This was partly due to my passion for being a working doula, but mostly because we could not afford to live off of one salary. I ended up exclusively staying home with Harrison for seven months- being a stay-at-home Mom is something I find immense value in, and a role I have always wanted to fill. But Jeremy was at one point working three jobs so that I could stay home, and that was not sustainable.IMG_3390The more I have grown into motherhood, the idea of having someone else care for Harrison, whether it be a few hours a week or full-time, has become more difficult in my heart. He is my little buddy and we have rarely been separate over this past year. When the necessity arose for me to contribute to our household income, it made more sense to find babysitting jobs- and so for the past five months now, Harrison has been coming to work with me! I am very thankful to have found a few different families open to me simultaneously caring for their children and Harrison. I have been working very part-time, just two or three hours each weekday, Jeremy is back to just one full-time job, and our family has fallen into a very nice work-life balance. We will be changing things up again come July, when I will be going back to work full-time with Harrison, nannying for a family that I worked for when Jeremy and I were first married.

Given the choice, I will always choose to stay at home with Harrison and any future children. During this season of our life, however, making that choice is not financially feasible, and I am beyond grateful that we have been able to find the next best scenario for our family. Taking Harrison to work with me has had its fair share of difficulties; earlier this year especially it was often incredibly stressful because I was constantly having to wake Harrison up to get to work on time, or he was missing a crucial nap because we were in an unfamiliar place, and by the end of the day or the end of the week he would be a disaster due to lack of sleep. I felt very guilty that he was acting out as a direct reaction of my life getting in the way of his needs. I also initially felt guilty that Harrison needed to share my attention with other children- it is something we both have been learning together. But we are five months in now, and with that time everything has become a bit easier. Harrison and the different kids I am watching have become much more self-sufficient, and many of my babysitting hours are now spent observing them playing together, and finding delight in watching them make each other laugh, or chase each other around the house, and forming a special bond. Starting the full-time position in July will have its own set of initial difficulties, especially because there is a 10-month age difference, but I am looking forward to watching Harrison grow over the next year and form a brother/sister relationship with this new baby. IMG_3143

These jobs have all been a blessing- in a concrete way they are helping us pay off debt, but it’s been more than just practical. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Harrison learn what life is outside of our little apartment. Whether he’s tearing through toys at a friend’s home, or sharing a swing with a friend at the park, or passed out in my lap because he’s now truly learned how to sleep anywhere- he’s experiencing life differently than he would if we had no obligations during the day, and we are experiencing it together.

That togetherness is everything I hoped for while pregnant and dreaming of what life would be like once Harrison was born. It looks different than I expected, but there is a beauty to it that suits our family well, and I’m sure it will continue to evolve over time. So for now, I am essentially a work-at-home Mom, because that is what we have found to be the best for our family.IMG_2992

 

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This & That

Friiiiidddaayyyyy. Get excited. As excited as Henry before he smashes food in his chubby paws.Spring2017-148I am pretty excited because James and I are headed to dinner and the theater tonight! If you have talked with me in person this past year, there is a high likelihood that I have tried to pressure you into becoming season ticket holders of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I always assumed season tickets were for fancy (read: rich) people, but the STC is trying to build up a following among younger people, so they offer a deal if you are under 35 where you get tickets to all 6 plays for only a tad more than the price of 6 movies. This meant that I got an email in September that gave me the dates for an entire year of bi-monthly fancy date nights. It has been fun to try out different restaurants downtown and take in some great plays. But most of all, it has been so valuable to have found an easy way to make time with James a priority in the midst of an otherwise crazy time of life.  It’s easy to forget the person you loved first when you have a new little love who is so very demanding and all encompassing. How do you all make time for spouses in the midst of those young children years? We are lucky to have a sizeable pool of siblings and friends who make evening babysitting easy, but even then – just deciding to go and making it happen can be tough.

Speaking of theatre, this looks amazing! It isn’t included in our tickets, but I really want to go.

I ordered some onesies from here and they are the softest cotton ever. So many kids clothes get scratchy after a couple washes, but these just become more buttery. I’m thinking I might get some PJ’s from there too, as Henry’s crawling has ripped the knees in most of his. I’m pretty intense about keeping his capsule wardrobe at a minimum… but he seems less inclined to do his part and keep his clothes in pristine condition.

These pants make everyone look awful, but everyone keeps on wearing them.

J.Crew has gone downhill. “Over time, however, J. Crew’s designs grew overpriced, eccentric, and even downright ugly.

Agreed- don’t offer me red velvet cake and pretend it has anything on the myriad of other cakes that should be consumed.

In case you were just dying to know, I did commit to a mom shoe.

As good Americans, there is nothing we love more than young royals dishing on getting takeout and watching Homeland, and it was also exciting to actually hear Kate’s voice.

In light of the series I have been doing on working motherhood, I really appreciated this article about how there is just no biblical mandate for men-as-sole-breadwinnners and these posts that Kate has been sharing.

One of my top summer goals (And it is officially SUMMER for me, since my semester ended this week! Which just means dissertating in shorts instead of sweats, but still!) is to actually get a library card, because I am not all about those little libraries that are all over Capitol Hill.

Later this summer we are doing some lengthy travels, and the hand-me-down purse I have used as a diaper bag is disintegrating. I would love a cute bag or backpack that is big enough to function as a diaperbag/camera bag/ hold-all. Any ideas? And don’t even bother suggesting this beauty unless you have one to sell for way cheaper, because I’m not paying that.

Happy weekend friends. Spring2017-145

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The work of motherhood: Ellie.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that just a tad of this series about working and motherhood was born out of my desire to get Ellie to write this post. She and her husband Charlie started as my older brother’s friends, but became some of the people that James and I enjoy and respect most. They have dealt with more difficulties than most young families our age, and done it all with a grace and humor that I can only hope I would have in similar circumstances. Plus, Henry and Ellie’s youngest Moss share the distinction of almost ruining my brother’s wedding, since both babies arrived early almost preventing me from coming and causing Charlie to drive all night following the reception to make it to the hospital in time for Ellie to deliver. IMG_2050It was the quintessential new-mom-just-back-to-work breakdown. One of my coworkers had been Skype-fighting with me about a policy we disagreed on. After she had pointedly disregarded my counter points and bulldozed over my perspective, she followed up with some trite nicety about how “we’re all on the same team.” At the same moment, a warm and thoughtful colleague approached my desk and asked me about my adjustment back to work. With that slight opening of an emotional door, I broke down into a mess of ugly sobbing. Aghast, she attempted to comfort me with an empathetic, “Oh, I remember how hard the adjustment back is…don’t worry; I understand.”

But, in spite of the calm and soothing spirit she meant to bring, I felt an underlying anger at the reality of my situation and how it made me feel isolated from well-intentioned offerings of empathy. On that day, not only was I grappling with being a new mom back in the office, but my brother was beginning to exhibit the symptoms of schizophrenia, and I was continuing to provide daily care to my mother, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s.McBrooms2015Fall003(1)

Fast forward to the present – I’m mom to Asher (2 ½) and Moss (11 months), caregiver to my own mother and brother, wife to my husband, and full-time employee at an international relief and development non-profit. I’ve been balancing the demands from these roles for years, and right before my second child arrived, I was approached by a senior manager for an exciting new position that required ‘slightly more’ travel and a switch back from part-time to full-time work. I took the job.

I’ve been vocal to my supervisors about what I’ve needed to be both effective in the office and resilient in the face of family challenges. For a period after my first son was born and my brother became ill, that meant shifting down to part-time work. Initially my supervisor was skeptical, so I had to advocate for myself and demonstrate my ability to be effective at my job in a part time role. And I had to clearly convey that I would be a better employee if I was positioned to care for my family, maintain a sustainable balance, and remain involved in the project I’d been overseeing.

When I was approached for the new job, I had to push my supervisor to allow me to maintain a flexible work schedule, in which I work early for an hour from home each morning before my boys rise and take off many Fridays to fit in all of our various doctor’s appointments. Pressing for this schedule allowed me to continue affording our superhuman, wonderful caregiver, Selena, who watches my two boys and my mother while my partner and I work. Additionally, it enables me to attend to the seemingly endless caregiving tasks – scheduling volunteer activities and get-togethers with friends for Mom, attending frequent doctor’s visits when she was in a clinical trial, plus doctor’s appointments and social services appointments for my brother.IMG_2052Additionally, because of the magnitude of my caregiving demands, at each week’s end, I often feel as though I am underperforming. My husband, Charlie, and I often talk about how even when we have a week where we really crush it at parenting or at work, we are still inevitably failing to give our best care to my mom or brother. Many of our days are sharp contrasts of failure and success. In one moment, we’re missing an appointment or miscommunicating with our family caregiver, but in the next moment, we’re given relief –self-care that we can provide to ourselves, or the generous act of understanding and forgiveness from a friend or acquaintance.

I face daily challenges which include regularly re-calibrating work-life balance, continuing to seek support and time needed for critical self-care, and the knowledge of the missed moments with family when I’m away at the office. But I feel confident in my choice to work hard to keep working. My mom is adventurous and fearless – she spent her career mentoring middle-school youth, and in our free time growing up, we’d trek out on a familiar local hike or load up in the camp in a national park. As a teenager I was jealous of the independence she asserted by maintaining her career, and questioned why she invested in mentoring other youth alongside raising her own children.

But now I understand the value in her commitment to sustaining an independent and important vocation, and how she planted seeds of individuality and opportunity in mine and my brother’s life through her example. Following in her footsteps has given me an opportunity to teach my boys about the energy and excitement I derive from my work. When I travel for work and meet people from across the globe who are committed to working alongside and on behalf of vulnerable children, I try to bring my boys with me or share lessons I have learned. During the week of the 2016 election, I took pride in planning a workshop for over ten of my colleagues from around the world and brought my five-month old with me to Connecticut and DC for the two weeks of training. My son got to meet my coworkers from Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, DRC, Malawi, Mali, and Zambia. Plus, I got to spend my work-evenings having invaluable one-on-one travel time with him. IMG_2054I’ve also been able to build an amazing partnership with my husband. The internet abounds with articles highlighting that among working couples, women still perform the greater share of domestic work. However, because of the character of my husband and nature and scale of our demands, Charlie has come alongside me in every facet of maintaining and managing our home. He takes my brother to doctor’s appointments, spoils the boys with dinners of sloppy joes and jambalaya when I travel, and dances with me in the kitchen or gives my mom a huge up-in-the-air bear hug when we’re at our wit’s end.

And lastly, I’ve developed a level of vulnerability and empathy that I never knew before. Years ago I wrote about the vulnerability of our caregiving experience, prior to the arrival of either of our boys. I’ve had to maintain openness when I engage in conversations at work that allude to my family situation, or with strangers with whom I decide to delve a bit deeper to provide an honest reply to “how are you?” And this has pushed me to expose parts of myself I would have otherwise kept private.IMG_2056Additionally, when a friend or coworker expresses frustration about flexible work arrangements, I strive to acknowledge that there may be an unknown personal circumstance that justifies the needed accommodation. The conversation often leads us to consider questions such as – why do we sometimes perceive that working from home will result in a coworker being less productive? Why are men or women instantly disqualified from growth opportunities or seen as uncommitted to their career if they need to step back into a part time role for a season?

While I will never forget the breakdown at my desk, I cling to that memory and the sentiments I felt in that moment to build a foundation of empathy for other parents and caregivers. It’s the groundwork for the advice I give to new mothers, and to those trying to balance work and caregiving. I always try to remember there could be unseen dynamics within each of our stories.IMG_2057So I always seek to listen more, to ask more questions, and to give grace and encouragement to friends who are in the thick of hard choices. I advocate for other coworkers and friends if they push for a flexible work schedule or decide to shift to part-time work or be at home to better care for their families and themselves. I consider myself a relentless advocate for women in the workplace – and that means being vocal about using technology to allow us to have flexible work schedules, and to raise the need for leave policies to allow for both men and women to take time for caregiving responsibilities.

The threads of my story have been understanding and compassion, and they have bound me to an amazing community of parents and families – whose stories, and trenches, may differ from my own. But all of them are important and unique, built on our universal desires to find meaning from our chosen vocation while also being our best selves and caregivers to our children, our parents, and our friends.IMG_2049

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