Definitions

At least three or four times this past weekend, while meeting other guests at a wedding in the UK, I was asked: “What do you do back there in America?”

Each time, I struggled with my response, unsure in which order in to present the many roles I have.

“I work in public relations,” I explained to one guest. Oh, he said, somewhat dismissively. “And do you have a family?” was his next question. Would the answer have been better received if I’d said doctor or hair stylist? People rarely understand what I do. Yes, I could have emphasized my seniority, my expertise, the influence my function has in day-to-day business. But somehow it always ends up misconceived.

“I’m a Mom,” I tried, the next time. “That’s great,” responded another guest inquiring after the ages and genders of my kids. “And do you work too?” was the next question. “Yes I do,” I answered without offering further qualification or detail. “That’s nice.”

“I’m a blogger,” was my next response when asked. “Oh,” responded the guest. In her 60s, she was rather ill-equipped to process this information or understand where it fit into the picture in front of her of a forty-something woman. “I also have two kids,” I added, which seemed to soothe her.

“I’m a working Mom,” I declared to the next person asking. It struck me immediately that, while this is a badge I proudly display in the US, it seems to be less of a self-anointed label elsewhere. To me, the phrase neatly packages up my life, blending together the demands of career, housekeeper and parent, broadly encapsulating the daily dichotomies of these roles. But when uttering this description in the UK, admittedly not in the company of peers of my age and circumstances, it felt like it lacked the aplomb that I usually attach to it. Was I playing it down? Or perhaps I usually over-emphasize it? Maybe I’ve become over-attached to the label, finding cheap comfort in it?

So, what do I do and how to really describe it?

After some thought, here’s what I cam up with: what I do is create energy, I distribute energy, I receive energy.

Somedays, this energy gets everyone up and out the door, dressed, fed and happy, and me on my way to my work, eager to perform, write, manage and hopefully to mentor, affect change, produce results.

Other days, I feel like any energy I had generated is steadfastly sucked out of me, every which way, like an undercurrent eroding the sand.

And then, there’s the presence of my family and friends, simple conversations, random meetings and moments which restore, creating a new rush of new energy, filling up my reserves so that there’s plenty to fuel all of my roles and to be amply shared with those around me.

So that’s really what I do. But it doesn’t quite lend itself to the abbreviated chit-chat with the person seated next to you at table 9 at a wedding. Ah well.

This Working Mom Has Had It All – For Eight Years

I am one lucky gal.

For the last eight years, I have been able to work either a four or three-day week while raising my kids. Next week my youngest starts kindergarten and, as per the plan my husband and I decided way back when we started our family, now is the time for me to return to full-time work.

Getting pregnant was not your usual “wham bam thank you Ma’am” affair for my us. It was stressful and scientific, that’s all I have to say. So when that line appeared on the pregnancy test, it was monumental. And I knew that, to protect and sustain this growing ball of cells in my womb, I had to make a serious change to my working life: I had to mitigate my appetite for my career and mute the pace at which I was working. I also knew that being a stay at home Mom wasn’t on the cards for me: both financially and intellectually, I needed to work.

“Having it all” for the last eight years was only possible through the trust and openness of some wonderful people, to whom I am eternally grateful.

Jim Barbagallo was my boss at the time I first became pregnant, eight years ago. Not only did he understand my desire to transition to a four-day week but he was also open to my longer-than-planned maternity leave. And then, when I was ready to return to work, he fought hard to get me my position and schedule back. When I became pregnant with my second child, my desire to cut back my time further coincided with the incredible serendipity of meeting William Agush. William, to me, was and is unique in realizing the winning combination of trusting experienced employees with workplace flexibility. Thanks to William, I enjoyed the working Mom’s hat trick: a three-day work week that was challenging and enjoyable, one whole day to myself every week, and time to be with my young kids. Fast forward to 2010, when I had the good fortunate to be introduced to Meg O’Leary and Beth Monaghan, principals at InkHouse. I was making my next career move but adamant about maintaining my four-day schedule. Beth and Meg, both working mothers themselves, had built this incredible, successful and vibrant PR agency with remarkable skill and talent but also with the humanity to understand that life happens, especially when you are a parent. We took a chance on each other that has paid off in spades.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that balancing being a mother and working a part-time schedule in a demanding, fast-paced industry was always sunshine and flowers. There were definitely compromises made, the never-ending juggling of competing schedules and priorities, stress and surprises. Financially, the cost of preschools, after-school care, and camps was shocking, if not crippling. Yes, there were times that I felt like I was outsourcing my kids in order to get my job done. And I’m sure that my kids thought (and still do think) that I spend as much time with my iPhone as I do with them. And none of this will change when I’m working full-time, I know. But my kids know they are loved. They know that, when they really need me, I am there. Thanks to daycare and preschool, they are sociable, optimistic and creative creatures. They also understand that work = money = toys. Which for them is really all that matters!

There were two other crucial components that made these last eight years possible.

The first is my husband. We went into parenthood – naive like most – but with an understanding that it was a joint mission and that both our careers and workaholic tendencies would have to modify. Fortunately, he works from home and sets his own schedule. For the first two years of each of our kid’s lives, he was able to be a stay at home Dad – on Mondays – giving him the unique appreciation of all that goes into caring for and entertaining a baby/toddler in the course of a day. He admits to it being both terrifying and incredibly special! The combination of my husband’s flexible work schedule, his uncontested commitment to his career and his success, his unfaltering support of my career choices – and quite frankly the wonderful man that he is – has made this journey feasible, practical and enjoyable.

The second element is my work ethic combined with my passion for my industry. To put it succinctly, I work hard and I am experienced at what I do. Getting to this point required determination, self-awareness, conviction, give and take, and plenty of hard graft. To working Moms or Moms-to-be who are weighing their priorities and maybe considering a shorter work-week, I offer this advice (while understanding that everyone’s situations and choices are distinct:)

  • Work your butt off in your 20s and 30s so that no-one can ever question your productivity, skills, desire and results when the time comes that you wish to change your work schedule.
  • Pay it forward: go the extra mile for team mates, put in the extra hours, be proactive, go for the win. I call it credit in the bank that you can tap into when you need to take that extra hour to participate in your kid’s classroom activity or take him to a dentist appointment.
  • Never make anyone feel short-changed by your work schedule.
  • Be accessible, even when you are not technically working. But at the same time, establish boundaries so that, when you are with your family, you can focus on them.
  • Be prepared for compromise. Something has to give.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • When you are working, work!

With both my kids now in elementary school, it is time for me to work a full week once again. I realize this will bring a new set of challenges and that I’m going to have to figure out how to carve out some me-time in this new world order. But I’m excited. With this extra day, I feel like I will be able to contribute more, achieve more, focus more on the parts of my work that I really love.

Hello Fridays, are you ready for me?

I’m a Control Freak: Resistance is (Almost) Futile

This past week’s vacation opened my eyes to the fact that I am a control freak. Not necessarily controlling of people, but very much controlling of my surroundings and the order of things. This may come as a surprise to you. Or maybe not?

The first realization came when I decided to totally disconnect from work: the definition of a vacation, surely? Handing off control of the day-to-day management of my accounts to my teams was a relatively easy step – they kick ass, after all. Every aspect of each client’s work was detailed and delegated. The stuff I could control, that is. The fact is that, working in PR, you are only ever in control of maybe 50 percent of your day. Events can take a turn in a nanosecond. So abdicating that which might happen and which I couldn’t control while lying poolside required a leap of faith. Not that I don’t trust my teams to do great work; more the realization that I wouldn’t be part of the process and, quite frankly, they could get it done with out me.

Next, pre-vacation organization, akin to a military operation. Making sure everyone is equipped with sufficient clothes, toys, sunscreen and so on was the easy part. Packing even was straightforward. It’s all the household management stuff that gets complex. Ensuring we had just enough groceries to feed us the days up to our vacation but not so much that it would spoil while we were away. And making sure there were basics in the cupboards for immediate consumption upon our we return. Ditto for laundry. Ensuring all the items needed for vacation were clean and dry in time and making sure there were sufficient clean clothes to come home to. It’s all in the details, the planning. General Patraeus would be proud of me.

Vacation travel: I must be in charge of the passports and travel documentation, always.

At the hotel: the immediate urge to unpack and arrange our stuff. Order must be established and maintained, especially if we are all sharing the same living space. And while I’m not overly OCD about hygiene, hotel bathrooms skeeve me out big time. Sharing hotel bathrooms with kids and a husband who tend to deposit damp towels and toothpaste lids on to the floor makes my skin crawl. Sand on bathroom and bedroom floors drive me nuts. Crushed chips and Cheerios on my bed push me over the edge.

And then there’s the topic of routine. I love routine. I’m addicted to routine. Just like a child, it gives me structure, predictability and yes, control. But a vacation is all about relinquishing routine, letting go, que sera sera and all that. While I’m first to admit that my main priority for this vacation was to sit my the pool and do nothing, the reality was I was not alone. We all needed feeding, clothing, bathing. entertaining. In short, we needed a vacation routine, but one much more flexible and fun than the home routine, of course. I was happy to oblige, to lay the groundwork, think ahead, plan out the details.

Coming home is, in truth, a control freak’s nirvana. Because order and routine needs re-establishing. Cases need unpacking, things need putting away, clothes need laundering, the empty fridge needs re-stocking. Ahhhh! This has been my day today and I’ve enjoyed every single second of it. Don’t tell anyone, but I was even looking forward to it.

So while I’m certainly no Christian Gray, I am self-aware and I realize that letting go and letting be is just not in my DNA. If I don’t think of and manage these things, who will?  To quote Adrian Monk, “it’s a gift …. and a curse.”

I’m Just Not as Young As I Used to Be

Stamina has always been my Achilles heel. As a school child, staying awake to complete hours of homework was a challenge; I usually had to wake up early to finish it and to study for tests and exams. As college approached, I embarked upon the opposite of sleep training so that I could stay up late and party.

This morning, as I was awoken by noisy, happy kids (is that better or worse than the alarm clock, I’m not sure?) I felt like I had been hit by a truck. The day prior was spent flying to Atlanta and back for a three-hour business meeting – my day started at 4am and ended at 10pm. It occurred to me, as I groggily  got up and meandered through my work day feeling spacey, wan and unproductive, that I just don’t bounce back like I used to. That I used to be able to withstand stressful, long hours at the office, then go out to drink and party – and still wake up the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, able to operate like the PR ninja that I am.

Not so much today.

The sad reality is that I’m just not as young as I used to be. And when I think more about this, the signs are clear and staring right at my ever-so-slightly wrinkly (those are laugh lines) face. Because:

  • Wearing heels more than 2″ high doesn’t just make my feet sore – it makes my hips and back ache.
  • A stressful day or a late night makes me feel hung over – without any of the fun.
  • More than two glasses of wine gives me heartburn.
  • I can barely see straight when I drive at night.
  • To put mascara on, I have to get really, really close to the mirror.
  • Thoughts come into my mind and then ….. oh wow, I have no clue what I was going to write ….
  • I get into the car bum first, then swing my feet in. And in reverse to get out.
  • Songs I love are now referred to as “oldies.”
  • Fashions I used to wear are now either retro – or making a comeback.
  • The belly pooch is here to stay, no matter what.
  • Several of my work colleagues are technically young enough to be my offspring.
  • Policemen are getting younger and younger (that’s a British expression, I think.)

The good news however, because I like to keep the glass half full is that, despite my age, I am still silly and I don’t take myself too seriously. I can hang with the young’uns at the office and hold my own. I’m down with at least 30 percent of what’s hip music-wise. I will see The Hunger Games and be culturally relevant. I still get checked out from time to time. I’m on Facebook lots (that’s still cool, right?)

And so, despite my advancing years, I guess it’s better to adopt a Mark Twain attitude than complain.

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