Category Archives: Family Affair

The personal blog is an important, under-respected art form.

I just got around to reading Anil’s recent post on 15 lessons from 15 years of blogging. Poignant, since I’ve been thinking about what to do with this site.

I’ve been blogging for over 10(!) years, with a few defunct blogger and livejournal accounts before that. The blogosphere has changed a lot since then, but my favourites are still the few personal blogs that exist without a strict adherence to a commercial niche.

I wasn’t sure there was still a place for a personal blog with no theme, direction, beautiful photos or commercial model. And then I realized I was a fucking idiot; there isn’t a rule book.

So, before I delve too far into Anil’s point 9 (Meta-writing about a blog is generally super boring), a few things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

  1. Feminism (in tech, and in general). About 8 years ago I held a job in tech where I was – as is typical – one of only a handful of women in the company. One day I was chatting with the (male) CEO about how to get buy-in from a male colleague, and the CEO said “do you ever think some of the difficulties are because you’re a woman?” I was totally shocked, and blurted out something affirmative (because I agreed, but thought I was crazy for thinking so). And then the company pivoted, and I was laid-off about 3 days later, so never got a chance to follow up. That, and other head-smacking stories rattle around my head a lot while I watch the news on all the new-wave feminism.
  2. Working Parenthood. Closely related to the feminism thing, I spend a lot of time thinking about the day-to-day minutiae of being a full-time working mom (because let’s face it – it’s different for dads) and how to strike the right balance. A thing I’ve noticed is that I have orders of guilt: the worst is when I’ve truly disappointed Isaac (which has only happened once), but a close second is when situations come up where I feel like I am not showing the world that I care about being a good mom. Example: talking about life-changing/affirming moments with (all male) colleagues, the dads in the room all cited the births of their children. I did not. Not because I am callous, but because “the birth” frankly left me a bit shell-shocked, and was just one moment on a long continuum of becoming a mom. Of course my justification came in a moment of l’esprit de l’escalier, so I never articulated that in the moment. And so I retrospectively worry/feel guilty about appearing a cold, uncaring parent. And I do not like it.
  3. The first Tiny Christmas. This will be our third Christmas living in the UK, and the first when we won’t return to Canada. We were sick of the high prices for flights, and the large chunk of time it took out of our holiday allowances, when we’d like to travel to other destinations. I am looking forward to the opportunity to start a brand new set of traditions that are about just the three of us, but I am also a bit nervous that it won’t feel “right” or “real” to celebrate what’s normally such a family-centric holiday for us, without any family around. But you never know until you try? I guess?

 

Awake / Asleep

It has not been the happiest New Year so far.

Christmas was amazing, and it was so good to see family and celebrate. Unfortunately, after that, things started going downhill pretty rapidly.

It really started back in October, when my Oma found a lump in her breast. I think you know where this is going.

Tests, doctors, surgery, hospital, more doctors, drugs, confusion, anxiety, complications.

My Oma ended up in the hospital with breathing problems and extreme fatigue in the wee hours between December 27-28.

Delays, diagnosis, drugs, procedures, confusion, anxiety, complications.

Heart Attack.

Coma.

ICU.

Hospice.

And finally, yesterday, two weeks later, passing.

This was all expected to happen “someday,” just not now. Not yet. We weren’t ready. We’re still not.

If you were looking for a resolution this year, resolve to have the tough conversations with your loved ones about what you want for your last days. If not to make it easier on you, then to make it easier on them.

Getting on that plane, leaving while there was so much uncertainty, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. 

But everyone I left behind, my mom, her brothers, my Opa, have it a million times harder. Having to cope with the sudden loss of their mom/wife, and deicide how to manage her last days when she was gone in mind and spirit, but not yet in body. Having to push aside their grief long enough to decipher what my Oma would’ve wanted, and how to celebrate the 83 years she had with us.

Even if that part was easier, though, it’s still not easy.

On my end, I sit up at night with Isaac, whose tiny mind and body absorbed all the unspoken stress and sadness surrounding his last few days in Canada, so he doesn’t like sleeping in his room by himself anymore and doesn’t know why.

And I wonder, now that the inevitable has happened, how one explains death to a three-year-old.

And I think about the miles between me and my family, and wish that this great big world, so full of wonder and adventure and amazement and opportunity, was sometimes just a little bit smaller.

Uneven Footing

I am really quite excited to see the resurgence of feminism in the mass consciousness.

I’ve actually been meaning to write more about my nebulous thoughts and experiences around it, but this other thing has been eating at me a bit, so I thought I’d throw it out there and see if I can drum up any discussion, because frankly, I’m stymied.

How do I negotiate prioritising and “leaning-in” to my career in the context of doing what’s best for our family?

At the core of it, Neil’s salary is over 100% higher than mine. This is due to a number of things; but primarily because of a higher overall salary for the work he does compared to what I do, and a more direct career path for him (he’s been doing the same thing for a while, marching steadily upward, while I flitted around and dabbled).

But, while he would never boast about this himself, he also owes a huge amount of credit for his earnings and career success to the fact that he works really, really hard. He goes in early most days. He stays late when he needs to. He isn’t a doormat or a workaholic, but genuinely believes in what he is doing, really enjoys doing it, and works hard to deliver excellent work, all of the time.

His pride, drive, and passion are core to what I love most about him.

And before we had a kid, these rarely presented any challenges. He worked late, I worked late, we sorted it out and fended for ourselves when we had to.

Introducing the tiny human has meant we have also had to introduce a lot more compromise. Generally we’re pretty good at making things work, and Neil really is very involved in the mechanics of making sure we’re all fed, clothed, and reasonably clean. He’s got time booked out in his calendar where he won’t take late meetings because I have commitments. But occasionally, we both need to extend our work days, and we need to make a choice about which one of us has to lean toward the family more than toward our jobs.

So how do you choose who’s going to ‘take one for the team’ this time?

Prioritising Neil’s work means ensuring he can continue to earn the income our family needs to keep existing (we can not live on my salary alone).

But I worry.

I worry that I am going to lose opportunities to increase my own career progression and financial contribution to our family (not to mention my own personal goals and hopes and dreams), by not being able to lean in as hard.

I worry that by taking on the bulk of the household responsibilities, so Neil can continue to thrive and grow in his role as our primary breadwinner, I am spreading myself thin enough that my outside-the-home-work ends up relegated to the position of ‘job’ rather than career.

I worry that by ‘betting on the short-game’ we are losing out on the potential of the long-game, but at the same time, that a focus on the long-game for future unknowns in my career may bite us in terms of opportunities for Neil that could very concretely impact our family now.

None of this is about parenting, or time with Isaac, which I’m really very happy with. Heck, if my salary were higher, I’d consider introducing a maid/nanny/mother’s helper/au pair/household manager into our lives, to make the choices a little less stark.

(Or is the right bet a financial hit to have those resources, so we can start making more time-choices now, in the hopes that it pays off in the future? – see, I can play this game all day.)

My in-person life is pretty much devoid of working couples without massive salaries who make this work.

I know a lot of families with two average incomes, who work to live and rarely exceed the 9-5:30 boundaries. I know many who live on one income, with someone staying at home to manage the household. I know a few where there is one ‘main breadwinner’ income-earner, and the other who has ‘just a job’ and generally makes most of the work-sacrifices to take care of the family. And then there are the Sandberg-esque examples, of two people who already have huge careers before kids come along, where hiring extra help is, financially, a no-brainer.

Maybe you are or you know someone, like me, somewhere in the middle?

Is there anyone out there who has any more of this figured out than I do?

How much to bring to the office

My first job out of university, I ended up managing a team who brought everything to work. Their joys, their sorrows, their dreams, their drama – so, so much drama (we employed a few underemployed actors; make of that what you will). They loved the fact that they felt like their colleagues were counselors and confidantes.

I hated it.

For a long time, I operated under a model of ‘there are things you do/share/say at work, and things that are for the rest of life, and NEVER THE TWO SHALL MEET.’ As I grew as a person, and a professional, those lines have become a bit fuzzier.

I still believe work is a time for working, and there is a certain level of discretion and decorum that should be kept. And I am still annoyed at and generally uncomfortable around those for whom that line seems to be nonexistent.

But I have also experienced the benefit of becoming friends with colleagues, and making an effort to get to know them as whole people (and letting them get to know me as a person), rather than a series of roles and duties between 9-5.

And then there is the issue of Leaning In, a la Sheryl Sandberg. Of being a professional woman, with a child, who does great work during the day, but also leaves at promptly 5:30pm for those sacred dinner/bedtime hours.

It is more terrifying than I expected.

The company I work at has a pretty young culture. Nobody else on my immediate team has kids. If I had to guess, I’d say 80% of the staff are under 30. I am not always the first to arrive (though I’m generally in early), but I’m almost always the first to leave.

Considering I haven’t yet built up a reputation at this company of hard work and competence (outside of what they think I’m like via the interview process), I definitely feel an internal struggle about putting such firm boundaries around my in-office work time, when I don’t feel that most people here do.

I don’t see any evidence that this would be a workplace in which I’d be penalized or discriminated against, either overtly or systemically, but when it comes down to it, I’m not sure if that’s because it’s got a women/family-positive culture, or because with the company demographics, it hasn’t really been tested yet.

So I struggle with how much to share.

I try to be matter-of-fact (without being one of those ‘sancti-mommies’) about leaving on time, because we have pretty strict schedule needs for pick-up & dinner. To talk about the fun & joy of kids when, rather than just complaining (which seems to be a more culturally-acceptable stance). And to balance that with talking about work and personal non-kid/family things.

I try, strange as it may sound, to act more like a dad. Dads at work get to talk about their kids without someone assuming they should be at home cooking or cleaning or caring. I act with the assumption that moms should be able to do the same.

It sounds simple, but I still get a pang, every time I mention a kid thing. Is it ok? have I undermined my professional impression? Do they think I’m less dedicated? Do they think I am not only a mediocre worker, but a mediocre mum as well, and therefore a total failure as a person?

I certainly didn’t think that of former colleagues, and have no evidence it’s happening now. I’m hoping the worry about this is all just my own brain, manifesting anxieties that could be largely irrelevant.

But maybe, just maybe, finding the balance, and forging this path will mean that someone who walks it behind me won’t have those anxieties at all.

So I embrace the discomfort, and lean in a little harder.

Me & my picnic buddy
Weekends are for Picnics

‘Reasons my Son is Crying’ makes me want to cry a little.

Everyone loves the Reasons my Son is Crying tumblr.

Everyone, except me.

I am not usually such a curmudgeon about such things. I am the first to admit that kids, especially kids around 2-years-old (like the one in the tumblr seems to be), are hilarious, illogical, pains in the arse.

My favourite episode of Isaac’s hilariously irrational wailing came when he broke a biscuit in half, had a grand meltdown about the fact that it could not be put back together, then the second he got over that, started up again because his tears and snot had so saturated the damn thing it was disintegrating. Ridiculous.

But people, being two is hard. Kids are just developing a sense of the world around them. It is huge, both in scope and in scale, and they don’t understand the rules of how anything works. The touchstones they arbitrarily choose to rely on for security end up being not so reliable. They also doesn’t understand their own emotions, or why they are suddenly full of rage or fear (and so being afraid of their own crazy brains, without the benefit of much self-awareness), compounding the issue.

And instead of helping his kid navigate two-years-old, this dad is stopping to take a picture, so he can put it up for people to laugh at. And that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Part of this comes with our current experiences with Isaac: the most notable parts of his day, the times he wants to tell us about, are the times he was sad.

It’s not that he’s sad particularly often – it’s actually pretty rare. So rare, in fact, that he will manufacture sadness, just so he has something to talk about. Example: he is perfectly fine, but will suddenly throw himself on the floor, wail for a few minutes, then get up again – totally fine – and proudly declare ‘I was sad on the floor, mummy!’

He re-enacts sad events that happened (the time he fell on his face and cut his lip), and picks up on all the frowning or crying characters in his picture books.

It’s pretty obvious that ‘Sad’ is just the emotion he’s most confident in identifying, so he wants to share his understanding. Sortof like when he figured out colours, and everything was ‘Blue!’ (his first colour) for a while.

Still, just like we made an effort to point out all the not-blue things to expand Isaac’s colour repetoire, we’re now talking more about the other emotions. So while it’s ok to be sad, and natural to cry sometimes, it’s also good to be happy, surprised, excited, nervous, etc.

Because how sad is it, to think about being sad all the time? To have all the attention paid to your most troublesome and traumatic moments?

I know, sometimes there are unintentionally hilarious side effects of kids’ experiences figuring out the world, but just like I wouldn’t want someone to focus on my worst moments, when I’m out of my element and flailing, I don’t think it’s particularly funny, or kind, to do that to someone else. No matter how old or young they may be.

Untitled
Cheeseballs making cheese faces

Home and Away

Neil and I just got back from a trip to India, which was incredible, but more on that later.

Taking the trip meant leaving Isaac behind. Just shy of a fortnight away from the kiddo.

You guys, it was SO GOOD.

Much as we love the little bugger, it was really excellent for Neil and I to go away for a while and remind ourselves that we’re awfully fond of each other as well.

Lovers at the Love Monument

We had initially planned to take Isaac along, but the more we thought about the destination, the pace of the activities we had planned, and Isaac’s personality (nearly 2-year-olds are not known for their logic and patience), it seemed like an increasingly bad idea to bring him.

So rather than a round-trip ticket for Isaac, we bought one for my mum instead, and my parents got to have some quality grandkid time, while Neil and I got to explore the way we used to.

We’ve had a lot of fun traveling with Isaac so far. Bringing kids along really changes the way you travel in a few ways. Your pace is slower. Your range is shorter. Your luggage is much more cumbersome. But your encounters with others are so often deeper. You connect with locals and fellow travellers far more easily with a kid in tow.

Toddlers are crap at monuments, museums, long car rides and staying up late. But we have only ever been mistaken for locals when travelling with Isaac. Smiles to others aren’t returned nearly as often when you don’t have a kid along who’s also grinning away. We spend more time in parks, at playgrounds, and shopping in local stores instead of tourist traps, since that’s where you find baby supplies.

I’d love to take Isaac to India some day.

But in the meantime, during the long and sometimes intense days that come along with caring for (chasing after, negotiating with) a toddler, it’s also really nice to take a break and travel with a light bag and an even lighter sense of responsibility. And the rejuvenation that comes from sleeping and waking on one’s own terms is not to be underestimated!

Although, in case you were wondering, absence does make the heart grow fonder.

The Friendly Skies – 4 tips for flying RyanAir with a lap infant

We just got back from a few days visiting friends in Stockholm, which was also our first experience with RyanAir.

ryanair
Photo by Mikelo on Flickr

We’ve flown other discount carriers before, but RyanAir is often held up as the example of how much discount carriers can nickel-and-dime travellers, and exactly how deep the race to the bottom has gone.

RyanAir is known for being exceedingly tight-fisted across the aviation industry. We were chatting with a check-in agent on a different trip about our (heavy) luggage and he dropped into the conversation that “hey, we’re not RyanAir here, our parents are married.”

So to say I was a bit nervous about how we’d fare on this trip was an understatement.

Turns out that if you channel that nervous energy into checking and re-checking the conditions of carriage, and have exactly no expectations about any standard of service, you might just be pleasantly surprised!

There are a few things you need to know about how RyanAir operates that are likely a bit different from some other airlines. These can be especially frustrating for frequent travellers, who are used to their routines and like to arrive as late as possible to spend as little time waiting around as you can (I am totally one of those people). So your first tip is to arrive early. No seriously, I mean it.

RyanAir closes their bag-drop, passport-verification and check-in desks 40 minutes before flight times. They make this fact well-known. But they don’t tell you they also have a skeleton staff checking people in for flights (fewer employees means lower fares!), so if you need to get to the desk before your flight, you should count on an additional 30 minutes (at least) of line-up time. And unless you are an EU citizen, checking no bags, you need to visit one of those desks. We definitely needed the line-up, since Isaac and I had to have our passports verified, and we had to get a luggage tag for our gate-checked stroller (the one and only (and appreciated!) freebie) as well as check-in the travel cot we’d paid for.

And here’s where I give you tip the second about traveling with an infant on RyanAir: check a travel cot. Cabin baggage restrictions are stringent (one piece only, max 55cm x 40cm x 20cm and 10kg). Any personal items (laptop, camera, handbag) must fit inside that one piece. Infants get no cabin baggage allowance, and it’s expensive to purchase checked baggage (£25-£40 per direction).

But! If you are traveling with an infant you can purchase a checked travel cot for £10 each direction, and it can be up to 20kg. We managed to roll Isaac’s fleecy blanket, some jeans and sweaters of our own, and a bunch of diapers up inside the thing while it was all folded down and bagged up to squeeze those few extra items onto the flight.

Ryanair cabin
Photo by bigpresh on Flickr

Boarding is also a special experience.

Like other discount carriers, RyanAir employs a “general admission” process. Queue up, and pick a seat once you’re on board. There is no special treatment for those traveling with babies. If that happens to be you, here’s tip the third: pay for priority boarding. The cost is negligible (usually about £5 per direction), but it puts you up a the front when it comes time to board.

When going with a tiny human, you’ll find the extra cost totally worth it as you can store your cabin baggage nearby and find a block of seats with your party (the last to board generally end up split up over an assortment of single seats). You can pay £20 for reserved seats, but the priority boarding is really totally adequate.

So! You’re on the plane, adjusting to the bright yellow and assortment of public-transit-esque ads, and ready to go! Just make sure that if you have timed your flight so your tiny-human might sleep, you employ the fourth tip: have a setup prepared to block out some noise and sound for your baby.

Another way RyanAir keeps fares low is to plaster the inside of their planes with ads, and bombard you with offers to purchase things (duty free! snacks! drinks! smokeless cigarettes! lottery scratch cards! more snacks!) for the duration of your few hours with them. There is literally an effort to part you with your money every 20 minutes during the cruising time of the flight.

ryanair
Photo by JayFreshUK on Flickr.

It’s not a hard sell, just a constant barrage of offers. They’re fairly easy to tune out as an adult, but not conducive to sleep for babies who are startled and/or bothered by a constant stream of announcements and carts up and down the aisles. It also means they never turn down the cabin lights while cruising. If your kid depends on some dark and/or quiet, it’s worth getting some earmuffs and/or jury-rigging some sort of tent-ish thing during the flight to try and insulate them a bit.

It also helps for those times a couple cretins and their brood of hellions who like to throw toys at each other over the seats and rile each other up into a vibrating, shrieking frenzy end up sitting a couple rows away. Not that I’d know what that’s like or anything. At least it makes your baby seem extra angelic in comparison.

Other than that, it’s hard to argue with jetting across the continent for less than it costs us to take ourselves and our car on a BC Ferries return trip from Vancouver to Nanaimo. Or less than a fancy dinner. It cost us more to park our car at the airport than one of our tickets.

Everyone loves to complain about the horrors of flying discount airlines, but it’s a compromise. And as long as you’re prepared, it’s really not much different than flying with an infant on any other carrier. Be ready to deal with longer lines, comply with the baggage restrictions, and employ a shred of the manners your mama taught you about living in polite society, and both your wanderlust and your wallet will thank you.