Working and mothering

This will be my seventh year on our elementary school council, and my third year on the intermediate/high school council. I don’t see any reason why I will not continue to be on the high school council right through Lucas’ graduation in 2026, which means that by the time he’s done school I’ll have logged a full SEVENTEEN YEARS on school council. In fact, I’ll have been retired from my day job for two years before I retire from council.

I didn’t join the school council at the boys’ first school, where Tristan attended JK through Grade 3 and Simon attended Kindergarten before we moved to Manotick, mostly because I was shy and a little bit intimidated. I thought you had to be part of the “in crowd” of moms, the ones who all seemed to know each other at the school fence, who made coffee dates and attended zumba class and didn’t generally talk to me. I thought that because I worked downtown during the day, I wouldn’t be able to participate. I thought you had to be one of those hyper-involved moms with boundless energy and community connections, entirely unlike tired, barely-holding-it-together, socially awkward me.

When we moved to Manotick, though, I thought maybe joining school council would help me get to know our new school and our new community, so I put on my brave girl pants and showed up for the first meeting of the year. The first person who befriended me remains a friend of the family to this day (hi Debra!) and all of the myths I’d assumed about council were dispelled. I didn’t need to commit to hours of activities during school hours, but I did need to commit to monthly meetings. Joining the school council has been great for making friends, occasionally exasperating, an excellent way to make community connections, and one of the best things I’ve done to feel connected to the place where the boys spend so much of their formative years.

Here’s five reasons why you should join your kids’ school council.

1. You will know what’s happening at school

The pre-teen’s monosyllabic grunt in response to “what’s new at school?” may be the least informative mode of human expression. This becomes, in my opinion, an even bigger challenge in middle school and high school. Schools try very hard to ensure parents are informed and have many channels of communication, but being on council has been the single most effective way for me to know not only what’s going on with school events and activities, but what challenges the school is facing, what victories they are celebrating, and to get a feel for the culture of the school.

2. You can voice your opinions and contribute to decisions

From fundraising to parking lot conflicts to lunch programs to technology in the classroom, being on council gives parents a meaningful voice in school life. Knowledge is power, and council offers an insightful window on the challenges your school is facing (from funding to enrollment to infrastructure) and what changes are being considered. I can think of a few occasions where the school admin have approached council with a contentious issue, listened carefully to feedback, and implemented a solution based on what they heard instead of what they were originally planning.

3. Builds relationships with staff and community

Through council, I’ve met many great people and made friendships that have extended beyond the school walls. Equally valuable, I’ve had the chance to get to know the school administration and many of the teaching staff. On the very few occasions when something has come up that I’ve needed to talk to the school about a sensitive or troubling matter, it’s been great to be able to rely on an existing relationship to smooth the way. It’s also great to be able to put a face to the names that come up in conversation with the kids, and to feel connected to their school lives.

4. Give back

It’s important to me to be able to give back to my community, and to set an example of community service for the boys. This is a pretty small commitment in the grand scheme of things, and a self-serving one, given the reasons outlined above. Still, it does feel good to be able to volunteer a couple of hours each month to make the boys’ school a better place for them and for their classmates.

5. It’s not as much work as you might think

I think this was my biggest fear about getting involved in council. What kind of purgatory am I signing up for? I’ve found through the years, though, that you can take on as much or as little as you are able. There are indeed some parents who can and do volunteer at the school on a nearly full-time basis, and there are others like me who try to weave it in to the fabric of working and parenting and everything else. If your council has voting positions, you need to commit to attending the monthly meetings so quorum (having enough voting members present to pass motions) can be achieved. Some years, that’s barely all I could achieve. Other years, I’ve been secretary, which requires only showing up and keeping a record of the proceedings and managing the agenda. This past year, in a fit of delusional enthusiasm for Simon’s Grade Six graduation year I was foolish enough to take on the yearbook. I nearly drowned in the 100+ hours it ate through May and June and I learned to sit on my twitchy-to-volunteer hands through forthcoming September meetings. Most councils are open-door, so even if you don’t want to commit to a voting position, you’re still welcome to sit at the council table and listen and contribute to the conversation. This is a great way to find out about other volunteer options, through council sub-groups or school activities like lunch programs and social events.

apple on books

Councils, like schools, each have their unique personalities. I need to mention that we live in a high-privilege community, and the chairs around our council tables are always full, but I have heard that there are schools in Ottawa who struggle to get even a few regular volunteers for council. I imagine this makes things a lot more challenging, as each person has to take on a larger share of the work.

While I’ve found council sometimes frustrating (oh humanity) and occasionally exhausting (when you get up at 5:30 for work, a meeting that runs until 9:30 on a cold February night can feel interminable!) in general my experiences with both the elementary and high school councils have been far more positive than not, and I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in their kids’ school lives consider signing up or at least attending some of the meetings.

What’s your experience? Have you volunteered for your school’s parent council? How did you find the experience?


{ 3 comments }

I‘m listening to a call-in show on CBC radio about workplaces making accommodations for parents, and in between grinding my teeth and rolling my eyes I’m repressing the urge to call in myself. Conveniently, I have another medium through which to vent my opinions on this subject, and I’ve been thinking about blogging about this topic for a while now anyway. Every day I count my lucky stars that I have an employer that allows me to work part time, and on the days I do work, allows me to schedule hours early enough in the day that I can be home in time to pick up the kids after school.

"What I dream of is an art of balance." ~ Henri Matisse

It’s been just a wee bit over five years since I made the decision to drop down to part time hours at work. When I came back to work after my maternity leave with Lucas, I switched from working full time to working four days per week. I kid you not when I say it was the best decision I ever made with regard to my career and work-life balance. People often ask me about my experience and how it’s working out, and I am always happy to rave about what a difference it has made in my life.

I love working part time hours. LOVE it! My weeks have a delicious, predictable rhythm. I take most Wednesdays off, which means that no matter whether things are nuts at home or at work, I only have to get through “tomorrow” at latest until there is a change of scene. Kids climbing the walls? No problem, the serenity of my little corner cubicle awaits. Work files overwhelming? Just get through today and tomorrow for a respite.

And best of all, no more of that Sunday evening dread, when you look at all the tasks you never got around to doing on the weekend (I’m eyeballing YOU, teetering pile of unsorted and unfolded laundry!) because you can likely take care of it in a couple of days instead of tripping over it all week. Wednesdays off are when I schedule all the kids’ (and the pets, and my) medical and dental appointments, the day I am free to volunteer in the classroom or on class trips (hello ski trip!) or deal with life’s minutiae, like furnace tune-ups and overdue library books.

I’m lucky to have an employer that respects my need to balance life at work and life outside of work, and a job that allows for it. There are times when I switch off and work a Wednesday to accommodate a meeting, or call in from home for a conference call, and I think flexibility on both sides of the fence has been key to making this work. I do think that maybe I’ve hampered my own progression into a more senior position by working part time, but that’s a sacrifice I’m more than happy to live with – for now, at least. While I love my job, I love my sanity more, and I have never been particularly career ambitious. I just want to be happy, yanno?

There is, of course, a cost to working only 80 per cent of a week – I lost 1/5 of my income. (Worth! Every! Penny!) Conveniently, the same month I dropped down to part time hours was the month I launched my 365 project, which has turned into a nice little photography business on the side. I sometimes wonder if I would have had enough stamina to manage the photo business working five full days a week. While I’m not bringing in the full amount of my lost wages through the blog and the photo business, it’s gone a long way to bridging the gap.

There’s a cost beyond 20 per cent of my salary, too. For every five years I work 80 per cent of full time hours, I will have to delay my full-pension retirement by one year. Rather than retiring at age 55, I now have to delay that by a year to account for the last five years of part time work. I may well resent myself at age 55 for the extra years I’ll have to put in before retirement — but I probably won’t. Heck, Lucas will only be in high school by then — I’m probably delusional about the idea of retiring before I pay for three university educations anyway!

The initial plan was for me to work part time until the kids were in school full time, and then hop back into the game full time to maximize my salary for that last decade before I retire. You know what, though? Even though Lucas has been in school full time since September, I feel sick to my stomach when I even think about going back full time. On the rare weeks when I do have to work five days in a row, I am frazzled and exhausted and whine wonder aloud how anybody manages to live life like this. I’ve become accustomed to both the restricted salary and the relaxed pace, and from here an extra couple of years until retirement doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. I know my bosses would be delighted if I decided to come back full time, but I can’t imagine how I’d make it work.

How do you make your life work for you? Do you work from home or flexible hours, or trade off with a spouse who does? Are you staying at home until the kids are done school – or permanently? Or do you compensate by hiring out menial chores? (I would so love to hire a cleaning service, but just cannot justify it when I am supposed to be cleaning on my day off! Five years later and I’m still waiting to work that one into the schedule!) Would you want to work a lesser work week and if so – what’s keeping you from doing it?


{ 3 comments }

I read this story in the Ottawa Citizen this morning and I cannot stop thinking about it. It’s about an in-school daycare in Hunt Club – a regulated, licensed, let me repeat IN SCHOOL daycare – where two daycare workers were fired after “three or four” kindergarten kids were TAPED TO COTS with masking tape when they didn’t settle down at nap time. “It is unclear how long the children were restrained with the masking tape or exactly where it was applied but the parent who contacted the Citizen said mouths were taped and that it happened on more than one occasion.”

I need to take a deep breath every time I read that. Holy hell, if that were Lucas? You would have heard me bellowing all the way downtown. How on earth does that happen in a licensed daycare in a public school? It would be horrible and totally unacceptable in a private home daycare, no doubt about it, but seriously – in a school? And these people were accredited early childhood educators, according to the story.

I’m just about done my daycare years. In fact, except for a week at the end of this summer, we’re pretty much officially done with daycare. After a long decade laced with wonderful caregivers and horror stories, we’ve finally made it through the other side. Normally, I’d take this opportunity to rant (again) about our collective need for more licensed, regulated daycare spaces but that’s exactly what this was. As if finding decent, affordable child care was not one of the most difficult challenge a modern Canadian parent faces, now we have to worry about this sort of thing?

By the way, I never did get around to blogging the follow-up to my conversation with Lucas’s school about skipping him ahead to Grade 1 or keeping him in senior kindergarten for September. After meeting with his teachers and the principal and reflecting on all your comments (thank you so much!) we decided the best choice for Lucas would be staying the course and keeping him in kindergarten. The reason I mention this now is that the whole idea of the imposed afternoon “quiet time” for naps or resting was my last bone of contention.

Not only do I think Lucas is way beyond needing a nap at this point, but if one were imposed upon him he’d be up half the night. The teachers, who happen to be parents of young children themselves, are sympathetic to this and promised that no naps would be forced on kids who didn’t need them. I have heard of other full-day kindergarten schools, however, who send home “tsk tsk” notes when kindergarteners do not settle down and sleep during the afternoon rest period. Never in my wildest dreams, however, could I imagine something like taping the children to the cots!

So usually I’d end a post with a question to invite your comments like “what do you think” but I’m pretty sure I know what you think on this one. I mean seriously, the question I would really like answered is “how does this happen” and “how do we make sure it never happens again”?


{ 7 comments }

Leading an unbalanced life

by DaniGirl on October 3, 2011 · 15 comments

in Working and mothering

I was at a seminar recently that discussed the differences between the Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millennials. One of the key differences between the three generations was what they seek in life: the boomers chased money and status, the GenXers chased balanced, and the Millennials seek meaning and personal fulfillment.

Ah, balance. It’s true. My grown-up life has been a quest to find that elusive life balance. Not just in work/home life, but in time for me versus time for the family. I’ve seen it said before: we’re a generation that grew up being told we can do it all – but we don’t really want to do it all, we just want to do some of it enough that we feel we’re doing most of it. So very post-modern of us.

I’ve been thinking about balance a lot lately. The big irony in my life right now, I think, is that when I dropped my day job down to part-time status at 30 hours per week a couple of years ago, I pretty much nailed the balance thing. Three days at home, four days at work. I felt like a good mom, but I was living a life outside of the house too. Breathing space all around.

And then, because I never can sit still for long, I pulled it all out of whack again with this photography phase I’m in. I’m delighted that it’s been such a success, but I’m exhausted, too. Now instead of one job, I’ve got three: the day job, the blog job, and the photography job. Oops. And all that other stuff moms are supposed to do, too.

The toughest part is that the photography job feels selfish, because at the end of the day it’s optional, and a choice I can make. A couple of years back, working full-time was not an option. Weekends crammed with photo sessions and editing? That’s an option, something I’m doing for love as much as – hell, even more so than — money.

So what’s the problem? The guilt. Oh, the guilt. And it’s back with a vengeance, because now I’m *choosing* to spend time on the computer, or in front of my camera, instead of doing a lot of other often meaningless but ultimately necessary domestic minutiae. I mean seriously, what would you rather do? Head out to the countryside with a couple of cute kids and chase ’em around for a couple of hours — or clean the toilet?

I know it’s a busy season for photographers, but right now, I feel like I’m spending way too much time with the computer balanced precariously on my lap, my attention span wavering between the image opened in Photoshop in front of me, the domestic battles raging around me about whose turn it is to watch what on TV, and a boy’s earnest but dreadfully boring recount of what’s just happened on Club Penguin, all while pointedly ignoring the crumbs from yesterday’s dinner that never got swept off the counter.

I’m not complaining here, make no mistake. I am so proud of what’s become of the photography business, to say nothing of my mad photography skillz over the last little while. But yeesh, talk about being the architect of your own demise.

Those of you who know me best are probably not even surprised by this turn of events. I mean, there’s nobody to blame here but me and my infernal inability to sit still.

So this whole balance thing must be a bit of a myth, right? Is it working for you?


{ 15 comments }

Daycare.

Sigh.

I really hope that our struggles to find consistent, affordable, quality daycare have been the exception instead of the rule, but I fear otherwise.

As you may remember, I found out in early April that the caregiver taking care of Lucas is getting out of the business so she’ll have more time to care for her aging parents. Perfectly understandable, but that leaves us searching for daycare. Again. For the eighth time in just over eight years.

I could wail and gnash my teeth – I came very close – but *shrug* that won’t help find new daycare. So I sent the word out on every network I could think of, and while I’ve come up with a few options, nothing is yet settled. This is Lucas’s last week with the current caregiver, but since Beloved will soon be home for the summer, we won’t need care until mid-August. The week before our caregiver announced her pending retirement from the business, I had registered Lucas in 3-days-a-week nursery school, so we’ve been hoping to find someone who can shuttle him to and from nursery school two days a week and care for him the rest of the time. Not likely, I know, but we got lucky on this count once before with Simon.

A friend recommended her former caregiver, but I nearly choked when I heard the rates: $57 a day. (!) The most I’ve ever paid per-child is $40, so that was a bit of a shock. We met, though, and after talking to her I was very nearly sold and ready to sign on. I had some concerns, but liked her style and philosophy well enough to swallow them. She runs an intensive educational-type program with scheduled activities, circle time, crafts, things like “letter of the week” and show and tell — it sounded much more like preschool and nothing like most of the home care we’ve had. At $969 a month for part-time, it was a big pill to swallow, but truly, what cost is too high to know your child is safe and happy? Oh that nefarious parental guilt.

She wanted to be paid for statutory holidays, which I understand (even though I don’t get paid for them as I work part time), and a couple of weeks of paid holidays each year. Again, okay, but the costs were starting to mount up. When I mentioned in passing that Beloved’s school year is done in May, she told us her school year runs until July 1st and we’d have to pay to that date to keep a spot for the following fall, and then in the days before we signed the contract, a few more issues presented themselves. It wouldn’t work out.

The next thing I looked into was the Manotick Montessori. I know a few people who have had wonderful things to say about the Montessori program, so I looked it up. Yikes! They charge $1400 per month, more than I was paying to have a full-time live-out nanny to care for all three boys. Scratch that option.

I got our names back on the centralized waiting list for Ottawa, and am waiting to hear if we can get a spot at the Rideau Valley child care centre. I’d still have to pay full-time rates, but I’d have the flexibility of a spot available any day of the week should we need it, and their hours of operation are more accommodating to the potential early mornings Beloved may face. They’re $881 per month for full time, which I don’t mind paying, even if I’m paying for the Wednesdays I keep Lucas home with me. I have some concerns about a day care centre as we’ve never gone that route before, but since Lucas is so ready for school (oh how I wish I could enroll him in JK this fall!) I’m sure he’ll take to it. The chances seem fairly good that we’ll get a spot, but once again we’ll have to quit the centre for the end of May and hope there is a spot for us again next August if we want the summer off — or suck it up and pay for three full months of care we won’t use.

And, I’m still running down options for in-home care in the neighbourhood, but after a month of beating the bushes, nothing has come to fruition on that front. Anyone know a daycare in Manotick with spots for a precocious but adorable preschooler?

Sigh.

The fact that I know I’m not the only one jumping through these insane hoops on an annual basis doesn’t make me feel any better. Daycare should not be this complicated, irregular patchwork of solutions. It’s easiest for me to complain about the money, but really, I wouldn’t have a problem paying $1000 a month for 100% reliable, quality care. I can’t imagine how hard it must be on families that have extra complications like shift work, or only one parent, or less money to throw at the problem.

We’ll get through this, and I can see the light at the end of the daycare tunnel for us. The boys’ school has before- and after-school care on site, so really, I just have to get through the next three years, tops, and we’re done. But after eight years of fighting an uphill battle, of posting ads and reading flyers and conducting interviews and trying to glean from first impressions whether someone is worthy of entrusting to them my most precious treasure — I’m tired, really, really tired of this.


{ 11 comments }

On daycare, again

by DaniGirl on November 22, 2010 · 4 comments

in Working and mothering

The day after we saw and fell in love with our new house, I posted an online ad looking for child care. That’s before we’d even put a formal offer on the house, before the building inspections, before anything. Because? Quality, affordable child care is that important. And, that hard to find.

I got one promising contact and we chatted back and forth through the long process of listing and selling the old place, and moving and getting settled in the new one. But even though we started the big boys in their new school from the beginning of September, I dragged my heels on transitioning Lucas to the new care provider. She seemed nice enough, but I was content with our existing caregiver. More than content, I adored her. However, the 15 minute drive back and forth to Barrhaven was getting inconvenient, especially for Beloved trying to get all three boys out and get to work himself at a decent hour. After putting it off for several weeks (classic denial — if you ignore the problem it goes away, right?) I finally made arrangements to have Lucas start with the new caregiver last week.

I was practically sick with anxiety. Lucas is not as clingy as he once was, but he is still very shy of strangers. Even though he’d been with our most recent caregiver on and off for six months and I know he loved her, he’d still fuss when we dropped him off some days.

We went for two practice visits at the new caregiver, just dropping by before lunch for a wee visit to meet the other kids and let Lucas get to know her a bit. The first time went well, but on the second visit I looked down at Lucas as we approached the porch and he had tears streaming down his face — even though no mention had been made of leaving him, nor did I have any intention of leaving him. For whatever reason, he sensed that change was afoot and didn’t like it.

And, I must admit, I was anxious about the new caregiver myself. She seemed nice enough when we met, and had great experience, but I fretted nonetheless. For the last several caregivers, one of the big boys had been home with the baby most of the time, which provided a security that worked both ways — I could get a full report from the more verbose big boys, and they could act as a human security blanket to Lucas. But with the big boys now both in school full time, I’d be sending Lucas off by himself. I haven’t send a child solo to day care since my eldest was one year old!

In the nights leading up to leaving Lucas with the new caregiver, I lost many hours of sleep worrying over the transition. Maybe, I thought, we should just make the “commute” to Barrhaven work. After all, wasn’t a stable and loving environment more important than a few minutes of inconvenience and extra driving each day?

The night before his first day, I made sure my work calendar was light and told the new caregiver that if he was too miserable she should call me and I would come and pick him up. I castigated myself for not making a longer transition period for him. I counted my family leave days. I broached the subject carefully with Lucas, telling him what to expect the next day and nearly weeping when he began to object, mollified only by the idea of a half-finished puzzle he had started on one of our preparatory visits.

And you know what? Beloved dropped him off that first day and he went happily into her house without a backward glance. No tears, no fuss. He’s been happy as a clam ever since. He loves his new caregiver, and especially loves her 13-year-old daughter, who seems to return the favour.

So I ask you this: when am I going to learn to stop working myself into a lather over things that turn out to be absolutely nothing?

And if you’re keeping count, that’s seven caregivers for our family in seven years — and ours seems to be a story of success and stability compared to many I’ve heard. We’ve been blessed by some truly wonderful caregivers, and only had a few bad apples in our lot. But of all the challenges we’ve faced in raising our three boys, finding accessible, affordable, quality child care continues to be the most daunting.

We’ve been so lucky, and I’m grateful for that. But something as important as child care shouldn’t be left to the caprices of good fortune. Here’s hoping our luck holds out. I think this one’s a keeper.


{ 4 comments }

A courtesy call from the Universe

18 August 2010 Working and mothering

It went something like this: Ring, ring. Hello? Hello DaniGirl. Oh, hello Universe. Nice to hear from you. What’s new? Oh, you know, the usual. Had an impressive supernova blow out last millennium near Rigel Four, made for a pretty good show. It should get to your galaxy in about a half a billion years, […]

11 comments Read the full article →

Did I forget to touch wood or something?

11 February 2010 It IS all about me

It seems somehow both painfully ironic and sublimely fitting that in the days since I posted a meandering article rife with smugness about leisure time and how zen I am about the pace of my life that I have been too busy to pee, let alone consider writing another blog post. Universe 1, DaniGirl 0.

0 comments Read the full article →

On time

9 February 2010 Working and mothering

“Moms have more leisure time than they think!” reads the provocative headline on ParentDish, and you don’t even have to read the comments to imagine the divisive and ultimately completely unhelpful comments from both mothers and those who love to hate mothers. And of course, there were defensive howls of outrage across the mamasphere. A […]

19 comments Read the full article →

On daycare, yet again

7 January 2010 Working and mothering

It’s been a good long time since I’ve bitched about child care, hasn’t it? I think we’re loooong overdue! The reason it’s been a good long time since I’ve bitched about child care is because I’ve been so happy with the young nanny who has been coming to the house since I went back to […]

15 comments Read the full article →