September 3, 2014 § 31 Comments
On September 4, 2014 – my 40th birthday – I begin my career with Automattic, a web company that describes its services using haiku, that has employees distributed all over the world, and whose creed begins “I will never stop learning.”
And oh yeah, Automattic is the company behind WordPress.com.
I am now an ecstatic and enormously proud member of a working family whose passion I share: to democratize publishing. In my role as a Happiness Engineer I will work my heart out to help WordPress.com users in their quest to put their work out into the world – their photography, writing, podcasts, videos; their wedding pages, book blogs, portfolios, caregiver stories; their poetry, band pages, musings, and travelogues. I’ll be there for all of them, and all of you.
I haven’t really absorbed yet that this is real. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, and throughout those years I have struggled with the tension inherent in wanting to be home with our children but also craving the stimulus of work that challenged my mind. Now I will have both. And it doesn’t hurt that I get to work with all these smart, funny people either. I feel like the luckiest woman alive.
I also feel like I want to give an Oscars style thank you speech. So first, I’d like to thank Cheri Lucas Rowlands who Freshly Pressed one of my early blog posts, and in so doing, introduced me to the world of possibilities within the WordPress.com community. Through Cheri’s work I later came to know others on the editorial staff, and I’d like to thank Krista Stevens, Ben Huberman, and Michelle Weber for engaging so much with me and the rest of the WP.com community, for inviting me to guest host a Daily Post writing challenge, and for sending me a care package with a copy of Scott Berkun’s The Year Without Pants and the Happiness Engineer tee shirt you see in the photo above. Those gifts and all of my interactions with editorial made me say, holy crap, I want to work with this company.
I’d also like to thank Deborah Beckett and Evan Zimmerman who took the time to talk with me at WordCamp Asheville about their experiences as Happiness Engineers with Automattic; all of the hilarious and super smart Automatticians who trained, supported, and helped me throughout my trial; and CEO Matt Mullenweg who I had the pleasure of chatting with as the final step in my hire, and who is kind, respectful, and like, the nicest guy ever.
Finally, I want to thank my family: my husband who took over most of my house-related work during my trial, and our kids who took over the rest of it. This hire is as much due to their hard work as it is to mine. I love you guys :-)
August 23, 2014 § 6 Comments
The word fray no longer makes me think of threadbare jeans or ratty-edged towels. It makes me think of the swim start in a triathlon, when your heart has hummingbird wings that beat inside your throat. When, after waiting for hours for your heat to begin, you finally line up shoulder to shoulder with your comptetitors, and you finally run into the water, and when it’s knee deep, you finally dive in and and you slither over another swimmer and you get kicked in the face and elbowed in the ribs, and you suddenly feel a knee in your back as a swimmer slithers over you and you go under and swallow lake water, and then you pop up again and get elbowed in the ear and you try to cough out the water and hope your goggles don’t get kicked off. That’s what fray is to me. Being in the fray at the start of an open water swim.
*Photo from the TriAmerica triathlon in 2002, in our pre-children life. I’m not sure whether my husband or my mom took the picture, or even if I’m in it. This is my entry for The Daily Post Photo Challenge: Fray.
August 11, 2014 § 11 Comments
Last summer, when the kids and I were in Florida for vacation and my husband hadn’t arrived yet, I was PMS-ing. I didn’t realize I was PMS-ing – I hadn’t gone crazy yet. I wasn’t sad for no reason, I wasn’t monstrous to the kids, I didn’t go dark places in my mind or dredge up old sorrows that only surface when I’m premenstrual.
Then I watched Out of Africa. I had never seen Out of Africa. I bawled. I sobbed. Rvers of snot and tears streamed down my face, and as I choked on the emotions pouring out of me, I realized, Holy crap, I am PMS-ing. Hard core.
The next day, I was scoured clean. I didn’t go crazy. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t monstrous, I didn’t go dark places or dredge up old sorrows, and it occurred to me that the movie had served as a proxy for my own emotions. I was able to cry out all of my hormones. I was able to release without having to enter into my trauma.
It felt wonderful.
I am currently working like I have never worked before. I am in a trial period for a job I really want. I mean, really, really want. My whole family is pitching in to make this happen. My husband has taken over food: planning menus, going to market, putting groceries away, cooking new dinners. The kids have taken over chores: scrubbing bathrooms, mopping floors, changing linens, lugging the vacuum up and down the stairs to de-crumb the carpet.
And me? All I have to do is figure out how to build the internet so I can help other people figure out how to build theirs*. No biggie. All I have to do is excel. No pressure. Every day my mind scales another vertical learning curve. I’ve got lists, and private blogs, and goals, and resources, and 20 tabs open in my browser at any time, and at least a dozen internet tools I’d never heard of until three weeks ago, and I’ve got custom web searches for reaction gifs and thesaurus words, and I’m interacting and writing, and interacting and writing, and interacting and writing all day every day.
And it is thrilling.
It is exhausting.
At the end of each day my mind is gelatinous. My husband asks me questions when he gets home from work and I stare at him vacant eyed. My brain tries to rise to him then sloshes back down into a quivering mound.
At the end of each week, my emotional cache is overflowing, and I leak in inappropriate places. When I had a breakdown in the craft store checkout line last weekend, I knew things had gotten out of hand. The strain of wanting this so badly, and working so hard, and seeing how hard my family was working, it almost broke me. And then I remembered Out of Africa.
I decided to shelve the book I was reading for my Andrea Reads America project – the book I’d been working on for four weeks already and was barely managing to read two pages of each day – and, with a knowing in my heart, I trotted down to the basement book cases, my excitement mounting as I rounded the end of the banister, to the shelf that holds our favorite fantasy books.
I pulled Guy Gavrial Kay’s The Summer Tree off the shelf for the first time in years, and just the cover of it made me close my eyes and smile.
It was everything I needed it to be. I fell into the world in the first paragraph, and I turned pages like I haven’t turned pages in months. Most exciting, though, is that unlike my previous book, which was thinky and political and cerebral, this book makes me feel. The emotions that have been building in me through the want of this job find traction in the character’s stories. I laugh, and my throat chokes, and my heart aches, and I cry. I emote.
And I release. By proxy.
*I’m not really learning how to build the internet, but I am writing from a Jell-O brain. Please forgive my
exaggeration poetic license.
July 28, 2014 § 2 Comments
I remember games of Monopoly that lasted for days in the hot summers of childhood. When my brother and I exhausted all of our other ideas and were bored, we’d pull out the good old Parker Brothers Monopoly board. Now, my son and daughter do the same.
I came down to the basement last week to check on the kids and found all three of our Monopoly boards – the original Parker Brothers, a Nintendo version, and the kids’ homemade Monstopoly version from last summer – lined up side by side for an epic summer game of Triple Monopoly.
I asked our kids how it worked and they explained that they threw all the money and properties up in the air, grabbed wildly, and started the game with everything they secured in the chaos. To move around the the boards they travel all the way around one, then move to the next one and travel all the way round it, and so on.
They bored quickly of the lack of challenge – unlimited money, unlimited properties – and they abandoned their game after a couple of hours. Fortunately for me as I worked upstairs, sorting the monies and deeds and game pieces for cleanup kept the kids occupied for almost as long as the game did.
July 21, 2014 § 5 Comments
Last summer we taught our kids how to cook. This summer, I’m teaching them how to clean.
We’ve been away from home for four weeks. We camped, we visited family in Georgia and Florida, we vacationed on a Gulf beach, and the kids and I traveled north to Charlottesville to visit my childhood girlfriends and their kids. In the middle of all of this, I interviewed for a dream job, was asked to perform a sample project, and will be continuing the interview process over the next few weeks.
And what have I been thinking about the whole time? Our entire vacation I wondered: How am I going to clean the house if I’m working full-time?
When I first started thinking about re-entering the workforce, I started tracking my hours in my role as stay-at-home mom. I discovered I spend about 15-18 hours a week on writing and my blogs and about 30 hours a week on my job as CEO of the household. If I add 40 hours a week for a job, plus time for sleeping, eating, showering, and relaxing with the family, my brain short circuits and I start doing robot arms: Does not compute! Does not compute!
On vacation, I spent a lot of time strategizing how to make it work. My mental health requires a clean home. In college I could not study until my room was spotless, and I know that in order to focus on my work I will need a tidy, clean workspace. My first thought was to hire a housekeeper, but then my husband said, “Why don’t we pay the kids?”
As (I’ve heard) Sheryl Sandberg suggests in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, it takes teamwork for women to succeed in the work force. Just as traditionally it took a spouse at home taking care of the household for men to succeed in their careers, it takes a supportive spouse – and family – for women to succeed as well. None of us can do it alone. So after my husband volunteered the kids (and himself) to help take on the jobs that were once mine, I formulated a plan:
I first made a list of all the chores:
- meal planning, grocery shopping
- budget, paying bills, reconciling bank account
- clean kitchen (every other week)
- laundry Monday & Thursday
- empty bathroom and kitchen garbage cans
- take trash to curb on Thursdays
- take recycling to bin periodically
- take recycling to curb on Thursdays
- sweep and mop
- clean mirrors and windows
- clean bathrooms
- change and launder linens
- sweep & weed back deck
I assigned permanent jobs to each of us according to our physical locations (I hope to be working from home so laundry is mine), mental or physical ability (the kids can’t manage the budget, and our vacuum is too heavy for them), and time constraints (garbage duties are quick for the kids when school and sports are in session) and then split the remaining chores among the four of us on a rotating schedule. For example, my chores this week are to change sheets and towels and to sweep the back deck. Next week my chore will be to sweep and mop.
When we talked to the kids about how we’d need help with housework if I re-enter the workforce, and especially when we told them that when I start earning again, they will start earning, too – they will get a bump in allowance – they were all about me getting a job. Surprisingly, they were all about the extra chores, too. As our 10 year-old son and I bobbed in the Gulf of Mexico, talking about financial planning and matching funds if they chose to put money in long-term savings, he asked “Hey Mom? Do you think sometimes we could do extra chores to earn screen time instead of money? If I buy a new game it’s always sad that I don’t have much time to play it.”
Great idea, little dude. Productivity deserves rewards. Besides, that’s one more opportunity to free up time for their Dad and me, and one more chance to teach the kids how to manage a household.
On our drive home from Florida, I scribbled notes in my composition book: how to scrub a toilet, how to sweep, how to mop a floor, how to sort and wash laundry. When we returned home, while sandy shorts and tee-shirts tumbled in the dryer, I wrote a housekeeping manual. I punched holes in the tutorials and put the pages in a leftover school folder. And on the one full day at home between Florida and Charlottesville, I told the kids, “Grab those cleaning caddies from the laundry room and bring them up to our bathroom. With cleaning, we start at the top and move down.”
Our son said, “I’ve got bathrooms the first week, so can you show me how to do that?”
He read the instructions out loud then started with one bathroom while our daughter started with another. They scrubbed and sprayed and wiped and rinsed while I stood by to answer questions and demonstrate technique. They fought over who got to try laundry first, and took turns with the glass cleaner so they’d both get an opportunity to squirt mirrors and windows. They struggled with carrying the mop bucket up and down the stairs and with keeping the mop over the bucket while they wrung it out, but they did it all, and our house was clean when they finished. They studied the chart, smiling over all the chores they now knew how to do, checking the *asterisked parent chores to see what extra jobs they could do to earn screen time.
The next day, before we left for Charlottesville, when the sun was shining and the kids were bored, our daughter came up to me and asked, “Hey Mom? Can I wash your car?”
And I said, Yes ma’am, you sure can. I’ll be over here at the beer table. Reveling.
The cleaning caddy is one of my happiness containers, especially now that our kids are carrying it.
July 19, 2014 § 10 Comments