12.3.20 – InstaShortie – Work Like a Mother (Ch. 2)

Read Chapter One Here!

It was nothing short of a miracle that I walked into Langston Creative’s office at five ‘till eight with a Starbucks in my hand and a normal heart rate. Traffic was on my side this morning. I silently thanked whatever gods decided I was worth the extra energy today. I practically floated to my desk. I must have looked blissful because the second I sat down Wendy, my coworker, came rushing over. Normally, I was scowling or half-asleep in the mornings and no one talked to me. I much preferred the no talking mornings.

“Amanda, do you meet with Peter this morning?” she asked. Her voice was hushed. She glanced in the direction of my boss’s office and then back at me. Her eyebrows furrowed and her lips twitched into a frown.

“Yes, why?”

“He’s on a tirade this morning. He’s already snapped at Ethan.”

“Ethan?” Ethan was the golden boy. He was a master brown noser and was always shoving it where it did not belong—mainly with my clients. Technically, he was my junior in the office pecking order and reported directly to me, but the way he acted you’d think he was my boss. “Peter is never cross with Ethan.”

“I know,” she hissed. “So, it must be bad.”

“I wonder if his wife is pregnant again,” I said. I’d meant to just think it, but the words tumbled out. I was comfortable with Wendy, but like Ethan, she was my employee and I knew better than to disparage the boss in front of her even if she was my only mom ally in the office. Peter had three kids, but his wife stayed home, and I was certain he didn’t even know their names or birthdays. Ethan was a bachelor, as were most of the younger men in the office. The women were either older and empty-nesters or younger and well-rested. Wendy had two kids, a boy and a girl like me. Unlike mine, hers were twins. Yet, she somehow managed to come in every day with perfectly coiffed hair and makeup. I’d not met her husband, but I assumed he was a saint.

“Probably.” She laughed. She knew what I was implying. Wendy and I spoke the same tired, cliched language of the working mom.

I took a deep breath to brace myself for whatever I was about to walk into. I didn’t bother turning on my laptop. I’d checked my emails while waiting in line at Starbucks. Nothing blew up overnight, so it seemed everything was fine. My pulse quickened and sweat beaded under the waistband of my black wool slacks. I don’t know what possessed me to wear them this morning, but I was deeply regretting my extra hot choice.

Peter’s door was closed, which was unusual. He was one of the most standoffish people I’d ever met, but he insisted on having an open-door policy. Going through the motions was Peter’s entire management philosophy. He didn’t smile. He never said please or thank you. He didn’t offer false platitudes. If he asked how your day was, he was doing it out of habit and not care. When I first interviewed with him four years ago, I almost walked away from the offer because of him. But over time I came to understand it wasn’t personal, it was just Peter.

Tentatively, I knocked on the door. His deep, muffled voice, invited me in. I turned the handle and carefully pushed the door open. I don’t know why I was so hesitant. Peter was known for his tirades. Sure taking one out on Ethan was new, but that was probably because I wasn’t here at seven when he started ranting.

“Good morning,” I said, forcing my voice to remain calm and steady. He didn’t need to know I knew he was a live wire this morning.

He barely looked up from his monitor. His fingers typed furiously. The crease between his brows deepened with thought, or concern, I wasn’t sure which. His pale skin tinted red. His chest rose angrily as he heaved with each breath. The buttons of his too-tight shirt threatened to explode. Why don’t more men wear those Spanx undershirts for men? Reign in the buttons and tame loose chest hairs.

I took my usual seat, the comfortable one on the left side of his desk. I sat down, crossed my legs and rested my planner and notes on my lap. We usually had a loose agenda for my weekly one-on-one. Today I needed his approval on a client pitch and two ads Ethan and I had worked on. Both were for big accounts that brought in more than enough revenue to cover the salaries of his entire team. I’d fought hard to be assigned to them and even harder to get promoted to an account supervisor. I now had four accounts under my management and was on track for a promotion to a director role. Ethan and Wendy were on my team for all four of them. Two of those clients accounted for a quarter of the agency’s financials. No pressure.

“Your kid was sick last week,” he said. No good morning. Not even his usual, whatcha got for me. Just straight into an accusation on my kid’s health. “And you missed another  meeting with the Kyle Team.”

I flinched. I hated missing that meeting because it had been an important one but it was unavoidable. “Yes, my youngest had croup.” I wasn’t sure he knew what that meant, or if his own kids had ever had it. Carly was my problem child. At six months old, she’d already been to the emergency room for breathing issues twice. We were regulars at our pediatrician and the after-hours children’s clinic. I often wondered if they offered a punch card. Every sixth visit is free! As a marketer, I thought it was genius. As a mother, our insurance and bank account desperately needed it.

“That’s the fifth day since January that you’ve missed because of a sick kid.” He came at me again with more accusations. An atomic bomb exploded in my stomach sending shrapnel through my veins. I did not like where this was going.

“Carly, my daughter, has a weak immune system,” I said. Born six weeks early, her health was a constant battle that she never stopped fighting. She was a tiny baby. Just last week she’d finally hit fifteen pounds. Her little lungs were prone to viruses and infections. Stephen and I alternated as much as we could. “I did work from home. I tried to call into the Kyle Pharmaceuticals meeting, but no one shared the code, and I worked with the buyers to secure the entire Q4 media plan for Burgers & Waffles.” I intentionally mentioned the two biggest clients. They also happened to be the ones who loved me the most. Both of their marketing teams refused to work with Peter. He knew it, too.

“Our work from home policy is meant to be an as-needed situation. Not whenever you feel like it.” Like when your kid is sick and can’t be at daycare, and you can’t leave a six-month-old home alone?

“I understand that. I work hard to ensure I do not abuse the flexibility. My husband and I take turns staying home when it is necessary.”

He grunted. “What does your husband do?” He said it with an odd mix of curiosity and disgust.

“He’s lead engineer at Kramer Judd.” I tried to say the name casually so as not to brag. Kramer Judd was the it technology firm in Nashville. They built apps, websites and software for anyone and everyone. Their largest projects were in the healthcare industry; an industry Peter was desperate to break into.

“Interesting,” he said. He rubbed his chin with his fingers and looked up at me. Our eyes met for the first time. “I’m surprised he babysits the kids when he should be working.”

“He is their father, he does not babysit his own children,” I replied before I could stop myself. “His job is flexible, but sometimes he has meetings he cannot get out of. So, we both bear the responsibility when our kids are sick. We’re both fortunate that the work we do can be done anywhere.”

He paused for a moment as if he were contemplating what I’d said. He himself worked from home on occasion. He’d even worked from the beach when he took his      summer vacation last year. He worked so he didn’t have to use his vacation time, or so he said. My guess was that he worked so he didn’t have to deal with kids on the beach. We’d taken our son to the beach last summer. Never again. There is nothing relaxing about chasing a toddler on hot sand or in the ocean.

It was infuriating that he didn’t even see the contradiction in his words versus his own behavior.

“Can’t your mother-in-law help? Doesn’t she live here?”

His question stopped me for a moment. I wasn’t sure I’d mentioned her before or how he knew she lived here. What he didn’t know was that even if she could watch the kids when they were sick, I’d never let her. Betsy Harris didn’t approve of my working outside the home. If I dared to call her when the kids were sick, she’d just use that as another arrow in her bow.

“No,” I said without further explanation. I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back into the chair.

“Bottom line is      this; I need you to find a solution for your sick kids. I can’t have you missing deadlines or leaving meetings.”

     “I have not missed a single deadline or meeting,” I said. I rarely pushed back or argued with him, unless I was defending a client request, but this conversation was pushing every one of my buttons. Tears threatened to expose my vulnerability, but I fought them back. I would not give him an ounce of emotion. “Sick kids or not, I always deliver on time. And I always exceed client expectations.”

I was quoting directly from my mid-year review. The very words he’d written. He’d delivered them hastily as if giving me a compliment put him in serious pain.

He sighed and said, “What I’m saying is you need to get your priorities in order.”

My priorities?! The audacity of what he was implying slapped me in the face. My family was my priority. Full stop. It was for Stephen too. I guaranteed his boss wasn’t having this conversation with him. When he left work to care for a sick child, he probably left with a chorus of applause chasing him. A standing ovation for Kramer Judd’s father of the year. 

But when I, the one who pushed those children out of her vagina, leaves to take care of them, my priorities are out of whack.

I fought back another wave of tears. I was damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I found myself annoyed at my daughter for being sick. Angry at myself for not being able to carry her the full 40 weeks. I blamed her daycare for calling for even the low-grade fevers.

The guilt overwhelmed me. It hit when I was at work and not with my kids. Or when I was with my kids and not at work. Or when I was at work and angry because daycare called. I couldn’t be everywhere at every moment, but that’s what was being asked of me. Be a good mother. Make family a priority. Be a good employee. Make work a priority. Be there when your kids are sick, but don’t make others at work suffer because of you.

I sighed, nodded and stood. “Is that all?”

“No,” he said. “The meeting with Geoff is canceled. He’s in Atlanta this week.”

“Okay,” I said. After the five-minute assault on my sick child and value as an employee, I wasn’t exactly in the mood for an hour-long meeting about financials and project statuses.

“Do you have the Burgers & Waffles ads?”

“Yes.” I pulled the proofs from my folder and hand them over. “I also have the Kyle pitch. The team has reviewed it and it’s aligned with their RFP.” Kyle was already a client for creative services and traditional media, but they were looking for a new digital and social media agency. It was my idea to pitch for the business. Thanks to my relationship with Leah, their VP of marketing, we’d gotten a two-week heads up on the request for proposal. At this point, the pitch was a formality. Leah was on board and impressed with the work I’d shared with her.

“When are we pitching?”

“With your approval, I will send the proposal over today. Once they review, they will schedule our presentation at their offices.”

“Do you have a print out?” I always had a print out. Peter hated reading emails or PDFs. He needed to kill a minimum of ten thousand trees a year to do his job. I slid the fifty-page, spiral-bound presentation across his desk. “Has legal reviewed?”

“Legal, finance and the digital team have all reviewed and signed off. All I am waiting on is your approval.”

He nodded and picked up the book. “I’ll have it to you by the end of the day.”

“Before five?” I asked. Peter considered the day anything before midnight. But I had kids to pick up, dinner to make and a house to run; none of which were on his radar. I couldn’t wait by my phone for an answer. Instead of explaining that, I said, “Leah is on vacation starting tomorrow. If I can get it to her today, we are more likely to get a quick response.”

“I’ll have it to you before noon.” With that, he ushered me out of his office and asked that I close his door behind me. I did as he asked but slammed it. The sound echoed through the office.

I breezed past an inquisitive Wendy, grabbed my pump bag and rushed to the tiny broom closet designated as the Mother’s Room. The space had no ventilation, which meant it was a sauna in the summer and an icebox in the winter. But it had a chair, a mini-fridge and a lock. More often than not, I had to chase someone out. Usually that someone was in the middle of a phone interview. If I were a spiteful person, I’d turn them all into HR for using the Mother’s Room to find another job. The worst, though, was when the secretary ate her lunch there and threw the leftovers in the trash. I’d spend my afternoon pumping session holding my breath, so I didn’t retch from the smell of stale ketchup or old Chinese food.

With the door safely locked behind me, I turned off the lights and sat in the soft chair. I didn’t need to pump, but I needed the fifteen minutes of silence to recover. My entire body vibrated as the tears threatened to explode. I counted to ten and then started my mental math routine. Two plus two is four. Four plus four is eight. I repeated this until I couldn’t add the numbers and started over. The routine always centered me. It took several rounds to get my breathing back to normal. The anger didn’t subside as quickly.

Fuck you, Peter.

Review: Troubles in Paradise, Elin Hilderbrand

Sometimes, when you read a series the books start to falter midway through and then disappoint.

Winter in Paradise is NOT that kind of series. I loved how seamlessly these books flowed. As soon as I picked up Troubles in Paradise, I was sucked right back into the story.

I love how well everything was wrapped up, and how all the characters came together in the end.

I’m sad it’s over, but I’m looking forward to picking up The Winter Street series next month.

11.21.20 – InstaShortie – Work Like a Mother (Ch. 1)

I’ve often wondered what would happen if I got into my car and just started driving. No destination. Nothing but an open road. The air crisp and free of the familiar scent of spoiled milk and cheese crackers. Everything weighing me down, fading into a blip in my rearview mirror. The stress, fear and regret burning away with every passing mile. A gorgeous sunrise exploding into sprays of pink, purple, orange and blue on the horizon ahead. Or, the light from the high midday sun creating false pools of water that I could splash through without worrying about soggy socks.

No screaming kids fighting in the backseat. No Baby Shark blaring over the BOSE speakers to calm a crying baby. The same speakers used to play the hottest songs that made you feel cool just listening to them, now relegated to toddler tunes stuck on repeat.

No rules.

No responsibilities.

No bills.

No unengaged spouse.

No misogynistic bosses.

I closed my eyes and permitted myself to slip into that blissful daydream. The possibility of it intoxicating. Breathing in deeply, I savored the feeling until a car behind me honked. Forced to face reality, I realized I wasn’t running anywhere. I was stuck.

Screaming kids.

Distant spouse.

Rush hour traffic.

Every day the same as the one before.

The reality of it all crashed my temporary high. I couldn’t dwell on these fantasies for long but the brief moments I did allow were enough to transport me far away from my life so I could breathe for a moment.

“Polly’s Pizza where we treat you like the extra cheese you are. This week it’s BOGO on any two large one-topping pizzas! Tell ‘em Gary sent you!” The commercial shifted into the jingle I knew all too well. I’d written it eight years ago. It haunted me ever since.

Bile rose from my stomach as I reached for knob to turn off the radio. That voice wasn’t allowed in my car. That name felt like fire in my ears. “Piece of shit,” I mumbled under my breath.

“Mom!” Barrett shouted from the back. His feet pummeled the back of my seat, jolting me forward. Kick. Kick. Kick. I gritted my teeth and counted to ten. I loathed the day he outgrew the rear-facing requirements. He couldn’t kick my seat then, and I met the approval of the judgmental eyes of social media moms. I glanced in the mirror to confirm that his five-point harness was properly placed at armpit level. It was. It always was just in case I decided to snap a photo of him asleep in his car seat or get a video of him singing along with the radio. Then I knew it would be fine to post without the threat of ten thousand angry mom mob comments. And, of course, it meant he was safe and secure. That was the important part of this equation.

“Do not kick my seat, Barrett James.” My tone was clipped but controlled. He stopped kicking for a moment before grunting loudly and kicking even harder. The breath hissed from my mouth as I held in the four-letter word I didn’t dare utter out loud.

“One more time and you’re going straight to timeout when we get home.” My pulse quickened. An all too familiar sensation drifted up my spine. I snapped in a sharp breath and shoved it back down.

“Carly touched my hand,” he whined. His baby sister giggled from her car seat. In the rearview mirror, I could see both his scowl and the reflection of Carly’s smile in her car seat mirror.

“She’s six months old, Barrett, she didn’t do it on purpose.” The sound of a tiny hand slapping skin echoed through the car. It was immediately followed by the high-pitched wail of a baby sister who already knew how to get her older brother in trouble. The sound reignited the fury I’d shoved away. It bubbled below the surface for a second before exploding into the chaos of the car.

“Barrett!” I shouted in the voice that made even me cringe. The one that started deep in my stomach and burned when it exited my throat. The one that sends flames of guilt burning through my veins, chasing and haunting me well into the night when I lie awake and recall all the ways I’ve failed as a wife, mother and woman.

He retreated back into his seat, farther away from me. His lips pressed together, forming a deep frown. Tears stung my eyes. The light turned green, and I gently pressed the gas as both children burst into a chorus of wails. Once again the tears are my fault. Mommy lost her temper. Again.

“Mommy is very sorry she yelled at you,” I said in my softest mom voice.

“Can I watch Power Rangers when we get home? And I want fruit snacks and milk.”

“Sure, buddy.” I leaned my head into the seat and rubbed my temple with my free hand. “How about we play the quiet game the rest of the way. Winner gets a dollar.”

“Okay!” His eyes met mine in the mirror. I smiled as his mouth flattened into a serious line. His jaw set tight, and his body shifted as he crossed his arms over his chest. Barrett was as competitive as his father. No game or challenge too small for the Harris men.

My phone lit up on the seat beside me. Speak of the devil. “Hey hon,” I said, answering. 

“Hey.”

A very small part of me was holding onto the comical hope that he was calling to ask what page tonight’s recipe was on because he was already home and wanted to start dinner. Once upon a time that might have happened, but not now. Not when he spent every day trying to prove his worth to the new owners of the company he’d dedicated his entire career to.

“Daddy!” Barrett. The quiet game was officially paused. “Mommy said shit today”

I rolled my eyes. There was no point in arguing with him. Aside from the fact that he was right, he was also a toddler. Even the most naive of mothers knew not to argue with them. There was no way to win. If mansplaining made me crazy, toddlersplaining was on a whole other level. It’s kind of like arguing with a troll on Twitter. There is no reason, and no matter how wrong they are, they adamantly believe what they believe. Facts be damned.

“Amanda,” Stephen scolded. I detected a slight chuckle in his response. I was quite certain Barrett heard far worse when Stephen drove them to daycare in the morning. My son had told me as much.

“Sorry.”

“Shit. Shit. Shit,” Barrett sang in the backseat.

“Listen, babe.” My body slumped into the seat. I knew that tone. It was new but had become all too familiar in recent weeks. That was the tone that said he was working late. Something more important than his family had come up.

“What time will you be home?”

“Eight?” His answer was more of a question than a statement. “Maybe nine. The transition team is here, and they need me to walk them through some app functionality for a meeting with investors tomorrow.” He sounded more strained than normal, and I could hear his boss shouting in the background. Stephen sighed. His job used to be the calm predictable one.

I wanted to offer sympathy. Instead, I said, “It’s bath night.”

“I know,” he replied. There was no guilt in his voice. “We can do them in the morning.”

“We can’t. I have my morning meeting, so I have to leave early.”

“Oh, I forgot.” Obviously. “I’ll try to get out of here as quickly as I can. Can you just wrap up a plate for me?”

“No,” I replied. “I am not making dinner, wrangling two kids in the bath and doing bedtime solo. I’ll pick them up McDonald’s.”

“What will I eat?”

“I don’t know, Stephen. Figure it out.” He exhaled sharply. Painful silence settled over my car’s Bluetooth. I could sense his hesitation. He wanted to respond as harshly as I had.

“Okay. Love you.” His was voice barely above a whisper. He’d given up and let me have the last word. This, our typical fight. Ending before it began. Resentment building.

“Love you, too.” I hung up before he could say goodbye.

“Bye Daddy!” Barrett said, unaware that I’d already hung up the phone.

“What do you say we pick up some Happy Meals and have a picnic in the living room?” I asked. My son replied enthusiastically and started singing a song to himself.

Nothing like fast food and the promise of a cheap toy to flip a kid’s mood.

After a lengthy debate in the drive-thru over whether he wanted chicken nuggets or a hamburger with cheese—not a cheeseburger, he does not like cheeseburgers—we finally pulled into the garage at a quarter to seven. I quickly set him up at the dinner table with Power Rangers playing in the background before hurrying to get a bath started. If I timed it right, I could bathe Carly and get her to bed before Barrett finished eating dinner. Using his Happy Meal toy as leverage, I hauled his sister into her room.

“Da da da,” she cooed. She’d yet to utter Mama, but she had Dada and BaBa down pat. It figured she’d take to the father who never woke up with her at two in the morning and the brother that tattled on her over the mother that birthed her and kept her fed. 

“Mama,” I said.

“Dada,” she replied. I shook my head and silently scolded her. I’d win her over eventually. After all, my breasts provided milk where her father’s only offered hairy nipples.

In the bath, she played with the water and kicked her feet, splashing me with enough water to classify as my daily shower. She giggled and splashed until I had to rinse her hair then she screamed and swatted me. She’d been cursed with a head of fine, thin blonde hair like me. If her hair followed the path mine did, she’d be dying it in a few years desperate to have it back to the blonde of her youth, rather than the dirty shade that popped up once the days of recess and endless sunshine ended. Barrett took after Stephan with his deep brown eyes and hair. My girl and I had matching blue eyes. At least for now. Stephan liked to joke they could turn brown at any given moment. He already had their first words, the least he could give me was their eye colors.

Much to my surprise, my plan played out exactly as I’d hoped. Barrett ate his dinner and turned into a TV zombie and Carly fell asleep in record time. I knew better than to celebrate my mini victory, though. Motherhood was a constant loop of I told you so moments. Just when you thought your night was on track, your almost-four-year-old finds his way into the laundry room while you’re putting your daughter to bed and manages to pour an entire container of Tide laundry soap all over the floor. I found him lying in the pool of blue liquid pretending to swim. 

“Look, Mama!” he proudly announced when I found him. “I made the beach!”

Read Chapter Two!

Review: Florence Adler Swims Forever, Rachel Beanland

(thank you to Netgalley & the publisher for the free eARC)

I am a sucker for both historical fiction and deeply-layered family drama. Boy, did this book deliver!

I loved the different POVs, especially Anna and Stuart. Despite each only receiving limited page space, these two were the stand out characters for me. They were the most authentic.

Esther and Joseph were admirable as the family matriarch and patriarch, but I didn’t agree with the decisions they may. And Isaac was just a giant POS.

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, Lori Nelson Spielman

This was the perfect book to pull me out of my reading hiccup (I don’t call them slumps).

Sometimes I get a little crazy and pick up a book without reading the synopsis. I had a general idea of what this one was about, but I came in a little blind.

I’m glad I did because I was intrigued immediately. My heard broke for Emilia and, later, Poppy. Maybe Lucy, a little, but mostly Lucy just made me smile.

I do wish we’d had more time with Aunt Poppy & Rico, their story was beautiful but heartbreaking.

If you’re looking for a heartfelt, multigenerational family saga, this is the book for you.

(thank you to Berkley for the free eARC). Out 11/17/20!

Mr. President, America is Speaking

Mr. President, America is speaking.

Bear with me today, friends, this may be a bit of a ramble as I gather my thoughts.

Four years ago I woke up in tears. I walked into my 18-month-old son’s room and apologized to him. I listened to Christmas music on my way into work and cried as I noticed that my neighbors had already pulled down their Hillary Clinton yard signs. I cried at my desk. A co-worker took me to lunch and to get ice cream.

Then I got angry. I marched. I volunteered. I canvassed. I donated. I spoke up.

This year, I’m numb but angry. I’m in shock but not surprised.

America is a racist nation. America is filled with single issue voters that have decided their one issue matters more than the rights of their fellow citizens. They’ve decided that they’re okay with racism, homophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, and sexism as long as their white “Evangelical” issues are protected.

Look, I know votes are still being counted. I know this fight isn’t over.

But the tired old man that they elected king is going to do everything he can to destroy our democracy. He’s been slowly picking it apart for four years, and if he wins, I fear for the future my children will face.

Every vote must be counted. Every fucking vote matters. We cannot and will not let voter suppression re-elect the tyrant. I will not lose my country. I will not standby as my country gives into the dark side.

This race is close—too fucking close.

We will not go down without a fight.

Vote Like Your Life Depends On It

When I am stressed, I do my nails. I am calling this mani the Blue Wave.

Today is the day, y’all. I’m feeling all kinds of emotions … hope and fear, mostly.

As a mother.
As a woman.
As an aunt and a daughter.
As a human who cares deeply about the lives and rights of others.

If you didn’t early vote or mail your ballot, please vote today. If you’re in line when the polls close, stay in line—you will be able to vote.

Know your rights. Voter intimidation is illegal. No one can take your vote away.

Save your voting selfie for after you cast your ballot as many states have laws against taking photos in the voting booth.

Take care of yourself today. Be vigilant. Be kind. Be patient. We likely won’t have results tonight.