Category Archives: Family Affair

So this is the New Year

Almost. Almost 2017.

I always cringe at the idea of writing a holiday letter, and yet, I love reading all the ones I receive.

So on the chance there are some of you out there who feel similarly about the writing vs. reading about other people’s lives, I present…

Team Watkii: The Year in Review

We started the year in Vancouver, celebrating the arrival of 2016 after having just celebrated Alexandra’s first Christmas. And here is where I start with the mea culpas to my poor, neglected, second-fiddle second child. Turns out that I had multiple people this year ask who that gorgeous girl-child was on my facebook feed, because I hadn’t mentioned her actual NAME in any recent enough post for them to address their Christmas cards. Whoops.

On to February. We enjoyed a great week in Naples with Neil’s parents and sister. We’ve got a nice tradition going with them, where instead of hanging around in dreary old England in the bleak midwinter, we meet somewhere with a bit more sun and a bit less rain. Naples was excellent – one of the few obviously touristy places we’ve visited that also felt like locals actually still lived real lives alongside the schlock.

Definite highlights of that trip were wandering through the old city, seeing Pompeii, eating amazing pizza or seafood or pasta or all three for pretty much every meal, and taking a very creepy and smelly wander on an active supervolcano.

Moving through to Spring, we kept on keeping on straight through until Easter. Quite honestly, it felt like the first half of the year passed in a complete blur. Alex wasn’t exactly an easy baby, so she and I spent a LOT of time on the couch, catching up on Netflix. It was basically the only place she’d sleep and eat. And if she wasn’t sleeping or eating, she was YELLING.

To be fair, she still yells. Except now it’s mostly because she likes the sound of her own voice.  Our house is officially loud.

Over the Easter holiday we took a long-haul holiday that was almost certainly Isaac’s highlight of the year: a week in Jamaica. On the recommendation of a few friends, we ended up at the Franklyn D. Resort. We spent a lovely week relaxing, hanging out in the sea and by the pool. Between the sea and the waterslide, Isaac practically turned into a fish. Neil and I ate our weight in Jerked meats, and even wee Alex might have enjoyed herself a bit (hard to tell past the yelling).

Our last travel hurrah for the early part of 2016 was another quick trip to Vancouver, as we weren’t sure when we’d be able to return – it was time to hand over all our travel and identity documents to the Home Office one last time to process our UK citizenship applications and get UK passports!

Despite our dreams of EU citizenship being somewhat derailed by Brexit, we were still very excited for Isaac and I to receive our UK citizenship at the end of July. It was a banner week, really: my birthday, citizenship, then Alexandra’s first birthday!

It also marked the end of maternity leave, and my return to work. Happy, sad, sunrise, sunset, etc.

(I am only half a year in here, and already bored of myself… writing these things is no joke!)

(And actually, I’m now finishing this on New Year’s Day… )

The rest of the year was equal measures very lovely and very stressful.

Biggest on the list in both categories has been buying a house! We discovered our current neighbourhood by total accident when we first moved to Oxford, and four years later, still consider ourselves so amazingly lucky to be in such a nice location with such a wonderful community of friends and neighbours around. So when the house across the street from our rental went up for sale in July, we put in an offer ASAP.

Buying a house in the UK involves a LOT more hoop-jumping than it did in Canada, from both the banking and legal side, and we did lose a considerable amount of sleep over it all, but everything did keep marching on, in spite of itself, and we finally moved in at the end of October (and apparently, that is a FAST timeline as far as real-estate here goes).

We were also put to the test as homeowners who now have to deal with their own problems pretty early, as we discovered the day we got the keys that the attic was home to a MASSIVE wasp nest! (The house had been vacant over the summer, so it had time to grow, unnoticed.) Then we had the matter of a small burst pipe that we thankfully noticed only about 15 minutes after it happened, and we learned very quickly how to contact an emergency plumber. Thankfully we have so far managed to avoid water turning to blood, fiery hail, and frogs.

September had Isaac starting Year 1 at school, and though the beginning of the year was a bit rocky with the transition from mostly play-based EYFS (Kindergarten) to “proper” school, he has settled in amazingly, and is really hitting his stride. It’s amazing and hilarious to witness his interpretation of what he’s learning, and he’s got ample opportunities to exercise his creativity. Generally everything revolves around bugs/reptiles or other minibeasts, anything to do with space, or some fantastical creature that originated in the minds of Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling. Or most often some Isaacian combination of all three.

Alex also finally really hit her stride between 12-14 months, and she is also thriving and happy and hilarious. This one is a Watkiss through and through – she is LOUD, often just for the sake of being loud, plays the joker whenever she can, and has the most maniacal laugh. She’s already on the small side for kids her age, and due to the birthday lottery, she’s destined to be the youngest in her peer group. It doesn’t phase her at all though, and at nursery she’s well known for being small but mighty! She’s also just as big with her love and affection, and throws her arms around us all for huge hugs on the regular. It is pretty much the best.

With all the busy-ness of the summer and early autumn, we took some much needed time over the October half-term break and headed to Wales for some family time and R&R.

Then November passed in a blur (especially when trying not to think too much about the result of the US election), and we are basically into December, and Christmas season!

We’ve stayed in the UK this year for Christmas and had a very quiet one. Although it’s hard to be far from family over the festive season, it was probably for the best, as I don’t think after the year we had my cortisol levels could take the stress of Christmas travel and dealing with the Vancouver Snowmageddon – though I am jealous of the wintery wonderland everyone there has been alternately cursing and enjoying!

I hope whatever your year held in 2016, it also contained some love, peace, joy and adventure, and I hope 2017 holds a lot more of all those for all of us!

MeTernity

I have had so many thoughts about this assinine “Meternity” idea-slash-book (go ahead, google it. I’ll wait.) that came out ages and ages ago. I finally have a few minutes (FINALLY) to commit those thoughts to pixels.

Maternity (or parental) leave is not for mothers (or parents). It’s for babies.

It is not an employment benefit for parents, but a social benefit for children. Yes, some employers choose to add benefits for employees who fall under this case as a retention tactic, but they are not universally applied the way that parental leave payments are. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that in much of the developed world, the government is the final payer of parental leave, not the employers (whereas employers DO pay for other benefits).

So you, by virtue of having been born, have already received your entitlement of parental leave.

Of course the application of the benefits hasn’t caught up with modern life, what with non-traditional families and employment, but if you look at every update to the policy, it’s designed to help facilitate a healthy start to life of new citizens (hungry, homeless parents and inconsistent care being very bad for babies).

Yes, becoming a parent is very often a choice, but nobody does because it’s going to give you some time to relax. Seriously? What rock have you been living under that parenthood is portrayed in any way as equivalent to a trip to the goddamn spa? Yes, some people have easy babies and manage to take on all sorts of non-baby projects during the time away from work. But many end up swamped by the needs of their own unique little person.

I personally had one amazing maternity leave. The kind of leave that combines the inspiration of a parent’s newfound role in life with hours to while away during naps and early bedtimes and quiet, self-content playtimes. The kind of leave which creates the time and space to start a new business, or found a movement, or just spend the better part of a year navel-gazing and swanning around going for leisurely walks and experiencing the kind of self-inflicted boredom that sends someone screaming back to work when the leave is finally up (that last one was me, in case you didn’t guess).

Nearly five years later I found myself on maternity leave again. It was decidedly less rosy. This time around I found myself exhausted, with a miserable baby (we would later discover she has some very valid medical reasons for that misery), an older kid who’d turned into a high-needs child, the three of us basically trapped in the house, with the brief exception of the school run, because with their particular challenges, taking those two kids anywhere was a special kind of torture. There was no time to be “reflective.” I was too busy trying to weigh how long I was willing to listen to the screaming that came with putting the baby down, and what the five-year-old might break in a desperate bid for attention in the new-sibling adjustment period, with how badly I wanted to eat food that hadn’t been microwaved yet again.

It was decidedly NOT a break (as evidenced by the fact that this poor blog has lain dormant for so long). And that’s fine. Because the leave is not a benefit for parents. It’s a benefit for babies. Both my kids got the benefit of forming a secure attachment and experiencing consistency of care, all supported by the state. A social program to get those small people off to a good start, so they can hopefully grow up well and contribute to society themselves someday.

I don’t deserve a refund because my second maternity leave didn’t give me an adequate “break.” After all, it wasn’t for me. How would the MeTernity crowd feel if their “year of rejuvenation” left them more exhausted and overwhelmed than when they started?

Much like my annoyance with the Hipster Bone Broth trend (it’s soup stock, not fucking magic), this MeTernity nonsense has nothing to do with babies. You want a sabbatical? Go and take one! Fill your boots! That’s what you call a career-break for grown-ups. “Parental” leave? That one’s actually for the babies.

(Hi, I have missed blogging. No guarantees how long this will last, but for now it’s nice to be back!)

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.

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Cheeseballs making cheese faces