Work–life balance

  • How to Publish a Book With Toddlers

    When Jessica and I began the submission process for My Other Exeach of us had a two-year-old at home. By the time we’d published the book, our kids had turned three, an age I maintain is even more challenging. Any veteran parents out there know the woes of raising toddlers and can attest to the impact they have on one’s productivity. Frankly, it’s shocking that we got any work done at all during the hours our children were conscious. Somehow, we pulled it off, and looking back on the whole experience, there are a few, um, memorable aspects that stand out.


    1. Phone conversations are less than professional. To anyone who doesn’t know, Jessica and I live dozens of states away from each other and have never actually met in person. Which means that daily emails and weekly phone calls are absolutely essential for us to stay organized and on top of things. Often, one of us would cover the mouthpiece to urge our offspring to go ahead and watch one more Daniel Tiger or to remind them that no, it wasn’t Daddy on the other end of the line. Or Grandma. Yes, have another bowl of Goldfish. But there was one epic phone call when both our children were at home and awake. Mine was upstairs in her bedroom, supposed to be napping, and she was hollering, singing, and banging the wall, all the while strumming a plastic guitar with her foot through the slats of her crib. I’m dead serious. As the two of us attempted to engage in a coherent conversation, both of our children could be heard screeching, whining, and bellowing demands in the background. It sounded as though we were conducting business in a lunatic asylum. Which, we kind of were.
    2. Mommy’s “office” gets very little respect. When we were in the thick of the book mailing process, the floor of my toy storage area living room office was littered with boxes, envelopes, books, and those annoying little adhesive label pieces from the back of the mailers. My toddler insisted on wrapping every single last one of those strips around someone’s wrist as though it were the 21-and-over bracelet slapped on hipsters at the entrance to a seedy nightclub. This was the delightful era in which she, if left unsupervised, would poke holes in any and all pieces of paper with a pencil. Thus, she literally poked holes in much of my work, including the address labels I had printed to ship books. Paper was wasted. But that wasn’t the worst of it…
      Boxes, mailers, address labels, those fun “wristbands” strewn about… and of course naked baby dolls and discarded dogs.
    3. Bodily functions and fluids played a prominent role I know. We’re grossed out, too. One of our children, whose identity shall be protected, actually pooped on his/her mother’s book notes. That may have been the same day in which he/she dumped a toddler potty full of urine into the heating vent—it’s hard to say. The day that I stopped by the hip indie bookstore to meet the owner, schedule a book event, and drop off a copy of My Other Ex, I had to bring my daughter with me. Being the stellar parent that I am, I of course bribed her with a lollipop for good behavior. And she was downright charming while we were there. Except for when, in the middle of our conversation about my book event, she loudly announced that she needed to poop. Poop happens– what are you going to do? Not bring your toddler on professional meetings, for one, but such is the life of a work-at-home mom with limited childcare. Of course, the biggest doozy of them all occurred at the actual book party. Everything was going beautifully … until my three-year-old vomited all over my husband. At my book release party. It’s true. Fortunately, after hearing her weakly proclaim, “I don’t feel well,” he hurried outside where she promptly threw up on him, avoiding contaminating the bookstore itself and preventing me from scoring any future book gigs with them. They managed to catch my brief reading and thank-you to my family and friends (Incidentally, I thanked my daughter for not throwing up on me), but pretty much missed the party.
    4. Snacks, Netflix, grandparents, and preschool are absolute necessities. Oh, and husbands help, too. Those hours when our children are being cared for by other family members or were at preschool were golden. During those magical windows, I often had to force myself to step away from my laptop to use the bathroom, as I was bound and determined to make every second count. Due to the nature of publishing, there were times when our kids were home and there was still work to be done. Enter aforementioned parenting crutches. Sure, we don’t recommend planting your child in front of the television with a handful of juice boxes and Uncrustables for hours on end(although it does sound tempting), but there’s no way we would have been able to have a phone call, return an email, or get all that editing done were it not for the miracle of the uninterrupted Netflix children’s series. Yes—even Caillou. Sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils: constant interruptions and shirt-tugging or the muted soundtrack of a whiny bald kid? Desperate times.

    Although the presence of two- and three-year-olds is less than desirable when attempting to read submissions, edit essays, and publish a book, we’re here to tell you: It can be done. Our first book about women’s friendship came out exactly a year ago, when our kids were two, and we can’t wait to see what the next publication experience will bring with a couple of three-and-a-half year olds and a new baby for Jessica!

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    **Remember! Our deadline for submitting to Mothering Through the Darkness, our upcoming anthology about postpartum depression and struggles, has been extended to January 1st. Submit an essay here.

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  • Juggling Without a To-Do List: Reflections From a Work At Home Mom

    DSC_0046It’s a realization familiar to any work-at-home mother of small children: that moment in the day when you realize that your kid is not going to nap and you need to readjust your expectations for your day accordingly.

    It’s become the most dreaded moment in my quest for work/family balance.  For me it symbolizes every thing that’s missing from the simplistic “lean in”/”opt out” public conversation about women’s lives.

    It’s early afternoon, and I have a checklist of tasks — articles to write, e-mails to send, phone calls to make — that still need to be done.  That list, that uncompromising and guilt-inducing list, sits next to me at my dining room table, my work station.  Usually my son naps for two hours, but sometimes he won’t nap at all, despite my best efforts. As my son screams from his crib, “Mommy! Mommy!” I scratch off items from my daily list, assigning them reluctantly to tomorrow’s list. My work day is over.  Now I’m Mommy, not education writer with a doctorate. Not aspiring freelance writer. Not parenting blogger.  Just Mommy.  And I feel an uncomfortable mixture of pleasure, gratitude about being able to spend a whole lovely summer afternoon with my son, frustration, and failure.

    I’ve had this “daily list” since my boarding school years of high school, pinned to my bulletin board in my dorm room.  I was a master at checking off every item each day on the List.  I had separate columns for short-term goals (finish French homework) and long-term ones (learn 10 new SAT words).  Later, my List would sit at my desk at every job that I had through my twenties and thirties.  I never missed a deadline, never missed a meeting, never passed over any professional opportunity offered to me. I just added it to the list.  In graduate school, I thrived. I finished my research papers ahead of schedule. I juggled research assistant positions, research fellow opportunities, teaching assistant jobs with my class schedule and other priorities.  But I had my trusty List.

    When my son was born, I was thrown into uncharted territory. Was I a stay at home mom?  How would I ever finish my dissertation?  Since I wasn’t making any money, how could I justify child care for the large blocks of time that I needed to analyze my data and write my dissertation?

    I had to learn to something new to me, how to seize small moments:  a few seconds to jot down ideas in notebooks at the side of my bed while I tried to rock my son to sleep, quiet walks in the fading afternoon light to think about my research conclusions while walking my son to the grocery store in his stroller.

    During these two years, I’m not sure if  I’ve been “leaning in” — making conscious choices to pursue both professional and personal success — or  if I’m beginning the slow process of “opting out.”

    Last week writer one of my favorite writers, Galit Breen, wrote a beautiful piece about the “gifts and pressures” of working from home. I can’t get some of her sentences out of my head. In all the talk about “opting back in” for women who gave up their careers, Galit’s words resonate with me more powerfully than any media headlines.

    According to Galit,

    Being a work at home mom is a beautiful gift, wrapped in a juggling act that can be hard to maintain.

    And in the New York Times Magazine piece from Judith Warner, “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In,” I could relate to the mothers’ voices, their compromises, and their joys.  What is lost in the public conversation (mostly) about these women is that they are not looking to become — and do not regret that they are not — Sheryl Sandberg.

    According to Judith Warner,

     And not a single woman I spoke with said she wished that she could return to her old, pre-opting-out job — no matter what price she paid for her decision to stop working. What I heard instead were some regrets for what, in an ideal world, might have been — more time with their children combined with some sort of intellectually stimulating, respectably paying, advancement-permitting part-time work — but none for the high-powered professional lives that these women had led.


    Working from home, for so many mothers that I know, is this sort of compromise. Yes, there is the awareness that we will not be the next Supreme Court justice or CEO. We will not be running a Fortune 500 company or a large magazine.  You can become discouraged by the goals, the accomplishments that will not be within reach. You miss the companionship and professional support of the workplace. And sometimes I do.

    Or, as most women do, you can celebrate the uncertainty, the complexity, the juggling and the possibility, while also acknowledging what has been lost.

    My to do list will stay on my dining room table. Every day. I will sometimes check off all of the  items on that list. But most days I won’t. But these days, these days of missed naps, playground adventures, and the exhilarating newness and possibility of reinventing myself as a writer, will not last forever.  My To-Do List will wait.



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  • What I Learned About New Motherhood: Now and Then

    By Jessica

    I am so excited to write a guest post today for Monica at Wired Momma! I’ve been a fan of her site for a while, and she’s written and posted some terrific pieces about motherhood.  She has written about work-life balance for all sorts of places, such as the Huffington Post and the Washingtonian.  She’s also really funny.

    Today I wrote about my undergraduate thesis in college, which happened to be about new motherhood.  I interviewed women — as well as their husbands — before and after the birth of their first child.  This was way back in the 1990s.  I made a lot of assumptions about these women and about motherhood as a 22 year old.  (I know: it’s shocking that new motherhood turned out to be different than what I imagined it to be as a college kid!)

    Please read more about what I have learned since then at Wired Momma.

    How does your experience of new motherhood compare to the women from my study as a college student?

    And if you haven’t taken our new motherhood survey, we would appreciate it if you took a few minutes to complete it!

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