Momming Like a Boss

Why Maternity Leave is More B-School Than Break

Disclaimer #1:  I love my little boy. More than I thought possible. His laugh is the best sound in the world. Motherhood is a challenge on its best days, but most struggles are gratifying, and this one is especially so. I know I am blessed and I feel he is worth every sacrifice.

Disclaimer#2: What I’m about to describe applies to whichever new parent is staying home on leave – mother or father, biological or not, but since I am a mother, I will write it from that perspective.

While pregnant, I had somehow convinced myself that maternity leave was going to be a break from my rather demanding day job. I had been duly warned of the first “100 days of darkness”, but my over-confident (read: delusional) self thought that MY experience would be different. I recognized that there would be challenges in nursing, changing, caring for and stimulating my baby – but I was not prepared for how CONSTANT and ALL-CONSUMING it would be. Naively, I thought that I would finally have time to write poetry again. I even thought I would have time to take up a side venture, like making fascinators. Yes, actually. I researched wholesalers of sinamay fabric and feathers while pregnant. My baby is now 9 months old and this is the first I have written, and the only hats I have made to date are old scarves turned into Erica Badu style headwraps to prevent my boy from incessantly yanking my hair out. This is the reality of maternity leave, and it is far from glamorous, or peaceful. If anything, it is a bit of a misnomer – the most daunting aspect to this time in my life is the realization that I can never again just up and…leave. I often likened my first three months to a prison sentence -albeit with the most adorable cellmate. While my mama-bear protective instinct came in from day one (how many times did I feel his chest to make sure he was breathing?), it took almost two months for the overwhelming sense of love I now feel to develop.

Mat leave is not a vacation, or a sabbatical. It is an additional full-time job with a fussy, demanding, client who doesn’t speak or understand your language and expects 24/7 availability. It is the simultaneous discovery and delivery phase of a lifelong project where failure is not an option. The day my baby boy was born was the day the procrastination option officially expired.  Strategy has always been one of my strengths, but detailed planning has become a newly sharpened tool. The degree to which moms have to think ahead – playing out the consequences of altered nap-times and scheduling meals to maximize ingredient efficiency – would impress military generals. And the constant improvisation,describing every activity with a spur-of-the-moment rhyming song to an often tough audience, has really ramped up my presentation skills.  I have become well-versed in explaining technical concepts to a (decidedly) non-technical audience…SANS POWERPOINT.

Most of all, though, I have learned that I have deep, deep wells of strength inside. I have learned that I have the capacity to love and give beyond measure. I have learned that this child is not my pupil, but rather my teacher. And as the fun days begin to outnumber the difficult ones, I have learned that it is all so very worth it.

Travel With More Meaning – Part 1

I’m a firm believer in immersive travel. Sometimes, your destination is not the main point, but rather a special setting for a life experience.  While the desire to see somewhere new is sufficient reason to travel, some of my most memorable experiences abroad have been when I have journeyed with a purpose.

In 2006, I partook in a summer study program in Prague, spending my days learning about religion, art, and European history and my nights either in dance or dialogue with fellow students. As an undergrad, it was an opportunity to study subjects unavailable through my regular engineering curriculum. Having a purpose bought me time, and having time bought me the ability to notice little things. Metro pass in hand, I would take the tram to a random stop and wander my way back home. The need for me to run everyday errands took me beyond tourist areas in search of fabric, vegetables, and even a place to thread my eyebrows. I stumbled upon the Wallenstein Gardens not through the main entrance, but through a small wooden door in a tall stone wall that sparked my curiosity every time I rode past it on the tram.

Old Town Square in Prague during the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final

Old Town Square in Prague during the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final

Most importantly, I was learning the whole time, earning university credits, and building friendships that continue to inspire me today.  Best of all? Thanks to a generous scholarship, my cost for two full-credit courses, accommodation, and breakfast for five weeks was less than $1500 USD.

In 2013, I followed my nose to the French Riviera after reading Patrick Suskind’s perfume, and followed a tip from my friend Andrew to use Help Exchange to find a working holiday placement. As fate would have it, I was able to spend a week working at the beautiful 18th century Bastide St. Mathieu on the outskirts of Grasse, earning my room and board in an otherwise very expensive region by helping the housekeeper with breakfast, taking on projects around the manor house, and acting as the host’s liaison with the guests.

Bastide St. Mathieu

Bastide St. Mathieu

My mornings of (easy) physical labour were a welcome change from my desk job, and I had most of my afternoons free to explore the area or write by the pool. Once again, my most memorable experiences were brought through my interaction with the hosts, the staff, and the other guests.

There are many ways to travel with more meaning (and often less money).  I will be interviewing other intrepid explorers over the next few posts, each of whom went abroad learn/share/create/do something. I hope you will be inspired to take a Trek of your own, in search of a special experience or an opportunity to contribute.