There’s a running joke in my office that my three-year-old should be added to the payroll. Why not? She’s earned it.
Coming back from maternity leave, I had two choices – park my daughter in a daycare or take her with me. I chose both.
Two days a week, she spends her day with a friend’s mother-in-law, at an in-home daycare where she is the center of attention. The other three days, she goes to work with Mom. I have work, but she has me.
If that sounds like I’m simplifying things greatly, I am. The system my husband and I painstakingly crafted as the days of my pregnancy wound down is nothing if not imperfect.
As a reporter, I spend my days on the road. In the morning, we may be on a farm, chatting up the farmer about milk prices. Late morning, we’ll move on to the county government center for a sit-down with the head of real property services to hash out tax issues, and then it’s on to a lunch meeting with the undersheriff on the big drug bust. The afternoon may be spent at home, writing or making phone calls. Then again, we may be off to meet with the local high school baseball star.
Wherever I go, she goes – almost without exception. Which means she’s been on farms, municipal buildings and sports complexes since she was eight weeks old, snuggled in a carrier or strapped in a stroller.
Putting my baby on the “schedule” many attachment parenting proponents abhor was a must. I had to plan interviews around the first morning feed, the second morning feed:and so on. If I could get in a quick one while she napped in her carrier, all the better. There is no scheduling a sour stomach on the drive across town to catch up with a Nobel Prize winner; there is only a well-stocked plastic tub, filled to the brim with extra clothes, antibacterial wipes and stain-prevention spray. In the early days, there was a complementing container stocked with diapers and wipes; today there are pockets on the rear of the seats stocked with crayons, picture books and toy cars. My business emergencies are as much the yogurt drink spilled all over the backseat as they are the interview that’s run over. “Mommy I have to go potty,” is as common – if not more than – “off the record.”
What does my employer think of it all? He didn’t have to train a new person when I went off to have a baby, and he still gets me thirty hours a week to run here, there and everywhere. He’s not putting her on the payroll, but he’s not putting me out to pasture either.
A New York Times article about the increasing numbers of women taking their babies to work surmised, “The needs and noises of babies have the potential to be highly disruptive and to stir resentment among co-workers.”
Said one workplace consultant, “The business of business is business. I think it’s a little distracting to have children at the office.”
That’s precisely why I warn every potential interviewee that my daughter will be tagging along for the ride. On rare occasions, I’ve scrounged around to get a babysitter to fill in (for the rare day-time board meeting), but I have yet to be asked by an interview subject to leave the kid behind.
Those who are parents unfailingly tell me how lucky I am, the older generations of parents remind me to cherish these days with my child in tow. The rest simply accept her as part of the package deal, and the hint of informality that she brings to a meeting generally puts people at ease. Subjects who would otherwise be stiff in front of a reporter and her notebook turn to watch my child scribbling in a coloring book or telling her dolly a story, and they let loose. As a mother, I can be trusted.
I have had my scares. A politician’s secretary – who had offered to watch my daughter so we could talk about his impending campaign – got a phone call. Rather than ask me to grab my daughter, she thought she could handle both. My two-year-old took herself on a tour of the town hall:and nearly gave me a heart attack in the approximately three minutes until I heard her little voice chatting up the secretaries one flight up.
In exchange, she’s had her thrills. The horse rides offered by the trail ride leader I’ve interviewed, the chance to drive a firetruck. When singer Gavin DeGraw came home to give the neediest kids from his elementary school new book bags just in time for the academic year to start, my three-year-old knew only that the other little girls in the room were nearly fainting when this man touched their hands and signed the backs of the their T-shirts. So she walked up to him and turned around, waiting earnestly for a grinning DeGraw to sign hers too. The photos of the two mugging for the camera (see photo below) will be good blackmail when she rebels in her teen years and starts blasting heavy metal from her bedroom – see, you were once just a sweet little girl who liked “that boy’s music.”
I don’t remember signing up for easy. But it isn’t “that boy,” or even the horses, I think she needs to experience. It’s the day in and day out with me.
Critics of the mothers featured in the Times cite the lack of quality time spent between working parents and their kids in the workplace. What, I wonder, counts as quality time?
The drives from place to place are peppered with questions and answers about every aspect of life. Road signs become the impetus for lessons in shapes and colors. Every meal is eaten together, sometimes pulled from a pre-packed bag in the back of the car and sometimes in a diner after we’ve finished up a lunch interview. There is plenty of time for hugs, even more for holding hands on walks up to knock on doors or around the halls of a municipal building.
With the exception of those two days at daycare (and, as of a few months ago, two morning spent at nursery school), I miss little of what happens in my daughter’s week. I know when she skins her knee and where she saw her first newborn lamb. I fell with her when we slipped on the ice just off the curb. I felt the lamb’s buttery soft fleece.
Would it be easier to clock a nine to five every day, to drop her off at the sitter on the way work and pick her up on the way home? Probably. My car would be cleaner. My interviews would go quicker without the pre-schooler trying to steal my pen when she’s had enough and she wants to go home. (The police chief, fortunately, was amused. Mom wasn’t). My day would almost schedule itself.
But I don’t remember signing up for easy. I signed up to be a parent, which – whether or not you have your baby with you twenty-four hours a day – is a full-time job.