Monday, November 15, 2010

Our Little Capitalist

Tonight as she drew a candy house I commented on how much Abi enjoys the story of Hansel and Gretel, and she offered to tell it to me.  Here's how it goes:

"Once upon a time in the deep dark forest a little girl and a boy lived in a candy house.  And they wanted to live there forever so they went to the STORE, and they went to WORK, and they got lots and lots of gold and they never lost any money and then they lived happily ever after."

Ah well, I never was really sure what the moral of that story was anyway.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Melanie Jones on tips for Expecting Working Moms

Here's what I have learned about being a working mom with young children.  I hope this is helpful if you are about to have your first!

Financial Tips:

1. Live on One Salary...even for a little while.  Early in our marriage we decided we would live on one salary - which meant that my salary was only for savings and daycare.  There are a lot of reasons to live on one salary while you are expecting.  If you are even remotely considering the possibility of staying at home, living on one salary gives you a chance to try out the financial side of that experiment.  Even if you think you could never stay at home there are great benefits.  The reality is that after paying the daycare bill, most working moms just don't make very much.  This is even more true with additional children added to the family.  Adjusting your budget now will allow you to adapt to a more realistic budget before you start juggling everything that comes with early parenthood.  The second salary savings can be used to pay down debt, start a rainy day fund, or provide a financial cushion as you adjust to a reduced budget once baby arrives.

2.  Pay down as much debt as possible prior to the arrival of your child.  Making decisions based on the well-being of your family is sometimes challenging, but making those same decisions with worries about outstanding loans and debts looming overhead can be even more challenging.  "Simplify" is a great word to keep in mind.  Less debt means less paper, fewer accounts to track, fewer bills to pay, fewer financial conversations to have with your spouse and that all translates to more time spent doing something more exciting than worrying about debt.

3.  Delay Large Baby-Related Purchases.  When I was "nesting" I was tempted to make a lot of purchases.  I am glad my husband talked me out of most of them!  When you are planning on working 40 hours a week, a pump for several hundred dollars, dozens of bottles, and an extra car seat for dad are really practical...but when you decide to reduce to half-time or work from home all of sudden those "necessities" aren't so necessary for you.  You never really know what you are going to do until that baby arrives.  Friends and family members might be able to help you find gently used versions for expensive purchases prior to baby's arrival.  If you discover that you need to "upgrade" it is easy enough to do later. 

Child Care Tips:

1.  Keep your Options Open.  I always felt panicked when someone called to say I had made it to the top of a daycare waiting list, or that I needed to decide immediately if I was going to enroll Abi in a program.  Now I know that there is nothing wrong with keeping options open.  When you find any place you remotely like at all, get on that waiting list and stay on it.  If you find the perfect daycare and your second choice calls and says "we have a spot for you now" go ahead and stay on that list too.  Continue looking for options throughout your pregnancy.  If someone mentions a childcare they liked long after you make your final pick go ahead and visit.  You never know when a center might shut down at the last minute, or the great teacher that you loved switches locations, etc.  Having options to choose from is always a good thing.     

2.  Choose a Childcare based on your Infant:  It's hard to imagine what an as-yet-unseen infant will need when they arrive, so it is easy to get distracted during your search.  When looking for child care you will see amazing preschool programs, talented toddler teachers, summer enrichment programs and parent-friendly conveniences like bus pick-up or parent communication journals.  Remember to only focus on what infants need.  The immediate task is to find the best place for baby snuggles, quiet sleep, and loving attention.  That center with the #1 preschool program in town might have eight infants in a room with two stressed teachers that rarely hold the babies.  Of course, it could also have an amazing infant program.  The point is, choose your childcare environment based on your child's current needs.  I have found that I could always move them to another place as their needs changed.  It was always easier to find placement for children older than infants.

3.  The variables are Quality of Care, Cost, and Hours.  Initially I looked for programs that would work with my previous work schedule, but soon found that to be too much of a limiting factor.  I'm picky about price and care, so being picky about time really narrowed the choices zero.  Whether shopping around for childcare or relying on a friend or family member, you will find that most childcare providers have rigid schedules.  If your work is at all flexible, you can choose a childcare based only on what is best for your child.  Maybe your favorite childcare is open from 6:30-4:00 and you currently work from 8-5.  Work with your boss to adapt your current schedule because it is unlikely that the childcare can be flexible with their hours!  If your job is very inflexible, then you may have to budge on one of the other variables, such as cost or quality of care.    

Work/Life Balance Tips:

1.  Gradually Back to Work.  It's a quandry. At the end of my maternity leave I wasn't making any money at all.  At the same time, I wasn't ready to drop my child off with someone I didn't know for an eight hour day.  If you can't afford to pay a week of full time tuition to let your infant gradually adjust to daycare in two hour increments, choose this solution:  Work with your boss to return to work gradually, and work with your childcare to negotiate a shorter day to start.    This is where the whole "living on one salary" thing comes in handy.  The childcare may actually require you to pay full time daycare even if you only bring Junior in 10 hours a week at first.  That is because they are holding a full time spot for you.  If you have saved a little money and learned to live on less, this experiment is more affordable.  Once you are confident about childcare and work, you can come back into the workforce fully.  Additional benefits of a gradual start include giving your body a chance to adjust if you are going to continue breastfeeding, compensating for tiredness and fatigue, and creating the additional time and space one might need to strengthen relationships with child and childcare provider.

2.  What are you working for anyway?  One great thing about not making much money after paying for daycare is that it allowed me to really see what I was working for.  Once I was down to making $2-$3 an hour it was very apparent what the "benefits" of my labor really were.  It could be anything really.  If you are practical then health insurance benefits and the residual pay benefit of just staying in the workforce building a resume might appeal.  Certainly the continued interaction with adult friends and even those few peaceful moments alone in the car are benefits as well.  Others might just like work in general, or sincerely have a passion about their career.  It is easy to become the "disgruntled, underpaid worker" when you return to the workforce - after all, it is impossible to put a price on your child, and the cost of daycare can feel like a big paycut.  Just remember - no one is forcing you to work - it is something you choose to do every day, for reasons only you know.  Defining what those reasons are is helpful in focusing yourself upon return to work. 

3.  Don't ask Google whether working moms are happier than stay at home moms, or vice versa.  Parenting is a growing experience whether you stay at home or work.  There are studies that show that stay at home moms are miserable, overweight, less focused on their children, and unhappy in their marriages.  Guess what?  The exact same results can be found in relation to working moms.  You can find a book to tell you whatever you want to believe about being a working mom, but experience has taught me this:  I can't say that work was ever connected to whether I was miserable, overweight, unfocused, or unhappy.  The thing that seems to affect my happiness more than anything is my willingness to make life changes that optimize the amount of quality time spent with family, friends, and in solitude.  When I have had less rewarding jobs, I just reminded myself every day that I was making the choice to be in that position for some reason - money, contribution to a meaningful goal, time to myself, opportunity to interact with adults, etc.  By recognizing my full participation in making that choice, it has been easier to leave jobs when the rewards don't outweigh the costs, and to optimize the time spent at work by recognizing what I am really there for.  In general, no single decision has made family life "easy" or "rewarding".  It seems every tiny little piece of your life contributes to that kind of happiness in some way or another.  For example, if I notice quality time with my spouse is lacking, it is unlikely that work is to blame - areas to consider might be the amount of time I spend on the computer, whether I've allowed dinner prep to become too much of a production, or whether participation in a few evening activities has overwhelmed our opportunities to spend time together.  Small adjustments throughout each area of my life usually help bring things into balance.  On the other hand, there are times when work really is part of the problem.  In those cases it still isn't a simple choice between working and staying at home - part-time work or work from home may bring life into a better balance.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Monticello Sandwich...and poor parenting skills

Ah, Monticello - if you are reading this and live in Charlottesville you already know that Monticello is the prized home atop a hill (moutain?) that Jefferson called home.  So...the good parenting skill part of this story is that we have already taken our children to visit this historic monument, and that we will take them again.  By the time they go to college, they should be able to write a very convincing admissions essay about Mr. Jefferson.

But ever since we mentioned Monticello, Abi got it confused with Nutella, the creamy to-die-for chocolate spread with a touch of hazelnut.  So here is the first installation of the poor parenting skills portion of this post.  On occassion, I feed my kids peanut butter and nutella sandwiches.  Most of the time it is a snack, though I did send one in the lunchbox one desperate day.  I used to eat "peanut butter and fluff sandwiches" - mmmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about the peanut butter and marshmallow magic...those are so good. 

Anyway, Abi calls the Nutella "Monticello" - as in she opens the pantry and goes - "Mom!  Did you buy some Monticello?"  The best part is when she says, "Can you make me a Monticello Sandwich?" - So the other bad parenting part of this story is that, as of this posting, I haven't told her that her delicious chocolately treat is actually called "Nutella".  I can't bring myself to do it - I've let it go on too long, and now I am trapped.  I just enjoy this little mix up so much - especially because in someways a peanut butter and nutella sandwich does seem to merit the name "Monticello" - I mean think about it with me.  Imagine this:

Peanut butter and chocolate spread sandwiches sold at the cafe at Monticello for $6 a piece - The tourist walks to the counter and says, "Oh yes, I'll have the Monticello and a Limonata please."  Or the tour guide at Monticello, incorporates the sandwich facts into the tour - "A little known fact is that there is a delightful sandwich named after this property - the Monticello incorporates both peanuts and hazelnuts, known as filberts in this area.  Filberts are native to this part of the country, and peanuts are an important cash crop in the region - as a matter of fact, Jefferson himself was a peanut farmer."  Are you with me?  If any sandwich should be named "The Monticello", it's this one.

So Mr. Jefferson, my daughter just ran in and asked me for a "Monticello" after school.  As I twist on the lid to the peanut butter jar and fold the sandwich pieces together to meld the chocolatey peanuty goodness as one, I say "This Monticello is for you, sir."  Maybe I will tell her about the nutella tommorrow...

That is my thought for today. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Garden Fresh Metaphors

I got to spend this morning in the yard, contemplating life and talking to myself.  Perfection.  Enjoy the fruits of my labor!  You can contemplate these metaphors as deeply as you would like:

-I love my ugly garden.  I didn't plant enough for the late summer, so one bed looks very spare.  I got some bargain end of season plants that haven't filled in their spots, and the dahlias are in desperate need of sunshine so they sprawl all over the sidewalk reaching for the sun.  I still keep tending my ugly garden.  Come spring I'll move the dahlias to a happier spot, I'll add some plants to fill in the spaces, and the stunted bargain plants will have had a good chance to prepare for a new season.  When you see an ugly garden, consider it a work in progress.  If you have an ugly garden, keep going - everything improves with attention and focus.

-If you planted the butterfly bush, you can't very well be mad at the caterpillars gnawing on your plants. Pick 'em off and move on.

-Gardening has only a little to do with tending the plants you want to grow.  The rest is pulling weeds and squishing bugs.

-Speaking of squishing bugs...a garden enjoys the company of spiders and snakes.  Don't squish without cause. 

-Plants always turn their heads toward the sun.  Sometimes that makes 'em grow a little funny.  At least they are headed in the right direction.  They'd be silly to spend their day looking at you instead of the sun after all.

-Every plant has an ugly season.  If you know an ugly plant, just keep watering.  Every plant has a pretty season too.

-Some people say they don't garden because everything they touch dies.  This seems silly, because everything a master gardener touches dies too.  The only difference I figure is that good gardeners expect that.

What is your best garden metaphor?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Life after Kindergarten

Every morning around 6:20am Luke is finishing his shower and my alarm goes off.  One of us runs the bath water and I tip-toe in to the girls room and roll Abi out of bed, her limbs hanging loosely around my torso while I carry her down the hall.  Just under two weeks ago the girls woke up past 7am, so one might expect that Lily would sleep in.  This is not the case - she is so intrigued by the new routine that every morning she sits up in bed expectantly waiting for her escape. 

The most fascinating thing about this new schedule for Abi is the fact that it is 'night' when she wakes up now.  Abi seems in a daze while she sits in the warm bath water and asks questions about the day ahead.  "Is this a staying home day?  Can I have jelly beans in my lunch today?  Can I wear my hair in a ponytail today?"  I've instituted the new bath routine in an effort to keep Abi's curly hair in compliance.  So far it has worked out well - I think she enjoys the moment to reflect on her day, and waking up to the warm water is nice.  I monitor the clock, and by the time she is dressed for school Luke has her breakfast waiting at the little table by the bay window, where the girls like to daydream and depending on the morning giggle with each other or squabble over condiments and utensils.

Abi picks out her outfit each night and hangs it on a hook beside her backpack just outside her room.  I pack a mid-day snack and a lunch each night which goes into the backpack after a few finishing touches in the morning.  Around 7:15am we make our way to the school bus stop just across the street.  This is my new favorite part of the morning - the parents all gather together at the bus stop and it feels so neighborly.  Sometimes after we all wave at the bus we chat for a moment before continuing on to work.  It seems like everyone wants to linger a little while.  Most of the families come together, spouses and siblings in tow to send off the children.  One father of a ten year old stands across the street, his daughter standing proudly and independently at the stop as her dad quietly watches from across the road.

I take Lily to daycare most mornings and she continues to ask each day as we leave the driveway, "Where's Abi? (pause) Skoo Bus?"  I think the girls both miss one another a little bit.  Today Abi said over breakfast, "I can't wait until Lily and I both ride the school bus together because then we can pray together before school."  That is something we used to do together just outside the door of their daycare.  Luke reminded her that we could do the same thing at home, but I think it was Abi's way of saying that she liked having her sister around. 

I rush to meet the school bus to pick Abi up, and she bounds off the bus with a big smile and a hug.  Each day she and a fellow kindergartener in the neighborhood ride together, and each day they excitedly rush to us.  That's my favorite time of the day because the new routine has made discussing the day so novel.  We sit down with a snack, do homework or watch PBS kids, and talk a for a while.  Little by little I am piecing together the way the world of kindergarten looks from her eyes.  Hot lunch is slightly cooler than packed lunch, the playground is hot but a good place to make friends, her teacher is wonderful, girls play with girls and boys play with boys (at least it is very important to pretend that is the case).  The other day she was so pleased that even the fourth graders and teachers liked her dress.  One day she was disappointed because the teacher didn't give her milk money.  I like listening to all of her experiences and start watching the clock at noon in anticipation of getting to hear about the day.

Abi is definately tired after her long day, but overall I think she relishes the experience of being so independent.  She is becoming a part of a world that her dad and I have little to do with - she is completely responsible for her own experience each day during the time span from bus stop to bus stop.  And she is only five years old!  I find that both terrifying and reassuring.  It is hard to imagine that months once passed like years as I waited for her to do something - say a word, crawl, walk, drink from a cup.  Looking back, it hasn't taken long at all for her to become so independent.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Year in Review

It has been a while since I posted anything on the blog, but with the beginning of a new year, I thought it would be worthwhile to update you on the whoseits and whatsits of the Joneses.

Our exodus from Pullman, WA took place in December last year in the midst of an epic snowstorm. We loaded up everything we owned and unloaded our stuff into a Salem, OR storage unit in preparation for living with Luke's mom on our return.

From mid-January to mid-May we made our way around the world with Abi and Lily in tow. It was a completely unexplainable event and I am amazed at how much our family changed during that time. Today I was packing up outgrown clothing which included a stack of teeny little shirts labeled "Semester at Sea","Vietnam", and "Thailand". The impact on Abi is unbelievable - she seems to have such an openness to people of every shape and form.  Every now and then she surprises us with a memory from the ship or our travels.  While it isn't always fun to travel with toddlers, I must say it is entertaining to relieve your travels through the eyes of a four-year old.

May and June were quite chaotic as Luke accepted a job in Charlottesville, VA with Semester at Sea and we purchased our first home long distance. In the midst of it all we were able to enjoy a "extended visit" with Luke's mom while we lived with her for almost two months! Abi and Lily got to play with their cousins more than they have ever been able to. That time was the closest we have ever lived to any of our family and there are definately perks! We were able to celebrate several birthdays together and make lots of memories.

In July it was time to move. This time the contents of our life traveled on the back of an ABF trailer and overall they arrived in Charlottesville unaffected. We arrived in Charlottesville at the beginning of July and signed the contract on our home on July 8th. My mom came out to help us move in and was incredibly helpful. Abi also spent a week with her at Vacation Bible School when we came to look at houses. We could have never done it without her!

Since then, we have been relatively still and life has settled into a predictable little pattern. I was not prepared for the grief I would experience after our move - while we were on the ship it seemed like we would be going "back" to all the friends we have made over 7 years in Pullman. Once we arrived in Charlottesville, the finality of our decision really struck me. I had no idea how important our community was in Pullman - the first month in Charlottesville felt like life on another planet! After spending soooo much time in an environment where I was constantly introducing myself to students on the ship, people around the world, and family friends in Oregon, I just didn't have the energy to really get out and meet people in Charlottesville.

I was blessed to meet the wife of one of Luke's co-workers within the first month we were here. She has been an incredible friend to me! Along with a few people from the ship that also live here in Charlottesville, she has helped our family find a church, connected me to a great women's Bible study, and provided friendship and "insider-information" on Charlottesville.

Another blessing: we arrived in Charlottesville during the most beautiful time of the year and I was able to spend a lot of time with the kids in area parks. We enjoy the weather here so much! (Except for the 12 inches of snow right before Christmas...where did that come from?!)

Shortly after arriving I took a job as a waitress to help with expenses a little bit. This job has been an incredible source of stories, laughter, friendship, and money of course. I hadn't waited tables since 2001, and after a rocky start I came to fall in love with the job and my difficult boss:) It was a great way to get out of the house and meet people that I would have never known otherwise. At the end of September I was also hired as a Data Analyst at an area agency on aging for 30 hours a week. This is also a great job with flexible hours and great co-workers too. I was working both jobs until this week, when I am giving up the waitress stint. I am sad to lose the income and the stories, but we will gain family Saturdays and free time in the process which will be more than worth it.

Luke is getting settled in at Semester at Sea, figuring out what his responsibilities are and planning several events. Through his work he was able to provide two friends from his YWAM days an opportunity to sail with the ship as interport lecturers. Bulelani sailed in the fall from Ghana to Cape Town. He had a life changing experience and is now intending to pursue a college education at Stellenbosch University. Luzuko will sail from Maritius to Cape Town this spring. We hope the experience is equally rewarding to him and look forward to supporting both in their future endeavors. They are incredibly inspiring young South Africans that have a strong desire to change the world.

Abi and Lily have been attending a day care since I started working during the day in September. Abi really enjoys school and will turn FIVE in July and start Kindergarten this fall. She is not at all a toddler anymore and I just can't get past it. Her little blonde curls keep growing and growing along with her attitude:) She LOVES her new house and Charlottesville, and has finally adjusted after what was a year filled with many transitions.

Lily is turning two in March and is very much growing into a toddler. Daycare has been a more difficult transition for her, as she has enjoyed our company throughout the year. At 10 months old she grew quite used to a lifestyle that included the companionship of BOTH parents the majority of the time. Luke beginning a job was especially difficult for her because I don't think she remembered a time when "DaDa" hadn't been available all day long. Just as she was getting used to that change, I started her in daycare. She is finally adjusting too, but still cries most mornings when I drop her off.

Our Christmas was sort of an homage to the previous year.  Luke's mom joined us for the festivities.  We were supposed to go to Williamsburg to be with Luke's aunt and uncle and some cousins, but the day before we were planning to leave another record-setting snow fall occured - this time in Charlottesville, VA.  Our plans were cancelled and Luke's mom was stranded just an hour away for two days due to the unnexpected snowfall. However, she made it out for the week of Christmas and we had a really great, though snow-bound, time.  While I wasn't completely excited about the snow, I have to say that a record snowfall provided a start to 2009 which turned out to be a pretty amazing year.  I am hopeful that our snow this year is a reflection of another wonderful year to come!