The Math’s the Same

Today is payday, but this week, my paycheck was slashed in half. Money’s been lean since my maternity leave, which, other than the 3 weeks paid at 60% by short-term disability, was unpaid. And then when I came back to work, I was only part-time for 2 weeks, so I was only making half of my salary. My previous paycheck was my first full paycheck, but as the first full paycheck in months, it only began to make a dent in our financial deficit. What with daycare, we’ve been on a tight budget. So we’ve really been looking forward to getting more of a foothold with a steady full paycheck from me.

Unfortunately, my employer’s incompetent HR didn’t cooperate with that plan. You see, we elected a flexible spending account for daycare – a pre-tax deduction. And when we filled out the form, which says “Enter your ANNUAL CALENDAR-YEAR contribution, not a per-pay-period amount,” we did just that. We multiplied the weekly daycare fees times 52 weeks a year, which came out to way more than the maximum you could withhold, so we elected the maximum – just under $5000. There are 26 paychecks in a year, so that works out to about $192 withheld from every paycheck. Except my HR department seems to have a different understanding. They take whatever you fill in as your annual amount, and divide it by the number of pay periods left in the year at the time you enroll. So, in my case, $5000 divided by 9, or more than $550 to be withheld from every paycheck.

Uh, WHAT?! I had even been contacted by HR when I submitted my form, and they had explained that they calculate whatever amount you elect and divide by the number of remaining paychecks, regardless of your intention for that $5000 to be spread out over the calendar year, as their own language implies. So they “fixed” it, and my last paycheck had only $192 withheld. But today’s paycheck? There’s $550 withheld. And though I lost my shit brought this to their attention, they were unable to correct it, and so they’re adjusting the amount withheld from the remaining 8 paychecks of 2011 to balance out the extra they took out of this single paycheck. Fine, except that doesn’t help me pay my bills for the next 2 weeks. Like daycare, for instance, which is now going to constitute half of my pay for the next 2 weeks. And since I’m the only full-time employee in my household, the next 2 weeks are going to be ramen filled.

Then I thought, oh! I can at least recoup alot of what’s missing from my paycheck by submitting my daycare receipts for reimbursement, something I haven’t done yet. A good plan, but when I logged on to my daycare FSA, it only shows the initial $192 contribution, not the extra $550 they also withheld this time.

I would say that I would work even less today than I normally would on a Friday to express my outrage that half of my net pay is gone because of someone else’s incomptence. But then again, 50% times zero is still zero.

Whenever is Convenient For You

Today everyone in my department was asked to submit their official working hours. Until now, I’ve been blessed with a work environment where nobody really cares when you come and go, as long as you do your eight hours. We’re all adults, here, after all. For instance, I started working here when I was six months pregnant, and my back was killing me by mid-afternoon every day. So I came in around 7 so that I could leave by 3:30 to go home and lie down before my backache really kicked in. Now I’m no morning person, but I figured that until I can find a job where I report once I’m good and ready and not when corporate America says I should be ready, I’m going to be tired during the week regardless of when I start my workday, so I might as well suck it up, be tired earlier, and get to work early so I can leave early. Plus, being six months pregnant, on the 7-3:30 schedule, I could take my lunch early and go for a walk before it hit 100 million degrees out there.

Now that I have baby, though, that 7-3:30 schedule is out of the question (as is getting anywhere on time ever again). I feed her on demand, meaning that I let her sleep when she’s tired and eat when she’s hungry. I don’t wake her to make her adjust to my schedule – I think that sucks for adults, so I’m certainly not going to do it to a two month old. Some mornings she wakes around 5. Others, not until 7. Not only is it unrealistic for me to get here at 7:00, it’s also impossible for me to predict how any given morning will go as far as her waking & eating, not to mention the impossibility of predicting how much little sleep I’ll get on any given night. As a result, I’ve been really enjoying the ability to show up when I can, work my 8 hours, and go home. I mean, c’mon people. It’s not like I’m showing up at the crack of 9 because I’ve been on a bender and I’m hung over. Usually, anyway.

I still attempt to get here as soon as possible in the mornings so I can hang out with my girl, but it just doesn’t always work out. The earliest I’ve been able to get here since I came back to work is 8:00. So I decided to bite the bullet and “commit” (nominally, anyway) to an 8-4:30 schedule. This is going to suck. I’ve always resented needing to conform to a fixed corporate schedule. That mean that I arrive at work inevitably under-rested and cranky, with a brain that’s not yet firing on all cylinders, spending hours staring at my work instead of doing work until I can get my brain and body up to the task at hand. More importantly, though, it also negates the fact that alot of the “work” that I do is thinking. Mulling over how better to communicate some idea. Or problem-solving how to do something really cool on a budget tighter than your 1983 Wranglers. And that stuff doesn’t happen just on company time, nor on some set schedule. Like most of the other creative types I know, work happens when your mind and body are rested and rejuvenated caffeinated. The best work environment I’ve ever had was one where I could write when I was inspired to write and on my own schedule. As long as the task gets done, who the hell cares if it happens between 8 and 5? Would the world end if I finish some project at 3 a.m. and sleep til 10? Creative workers need the mindspace to contemplate, think, and take time away from a task so that they can come back to it once inspiration strikes. Yet employers try to enforce this whole 8-5 Monday-Friday cookie-cutter thing regardless of whether you’re on a factory line or writing.

For those of you who think that the notion of letting workers set their own schedules doesn’t work, see for yourself: Jason Fried’s TED talk says it way better than I can.

 

Time for a Nap

I came across this Statler & Waldorf video today, and it incorporates everything that is good in life: Muppets, the web, and napping. A friend of mine says, “I have NO idea how I spent my time at work before the Internet. Seriously! I have NO clue!” So what would we do without the internet? I wholeheartedly support Statler & Waldorf’s excellent suggestion.

Recommitting to a New Career

Today was my first day back to work after having a baby. It sucked. It was so unbelievably difficult to leave my little infant at daycare, and reaffirmed to me that I need to figure out a way to work for myself. Since we moved here in 2006, I worked in museums (well, and one private art gallery) for four years, making the best of the local museum scene (which ain’t much, by the way) before fully abandoning museum work slash getting laid off last fall. Once I was laid off, I had to scramble to find a paycheck, so I took the first full-time benefits-eligible job I could find because I needed to pay our mortgage and eat and stuff. Y’know, the extravagant things in life. But having never had a baby before, I had no idea what to expect about just how hard it would be to put her in daycare and head back into the office. I’m not saying I would want to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, but I certainly wasn’t ready to return to work so quickly, and leaving a helpless little 8 week old at daycare was the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do.

It just reaffirms the stuff I learned a couple years ago with career counseling. I need to figure out a way to work for myself, set my own schedule, define my own projects, and work from home. More than ever.

Spreading the Good News

Starting my new job has been an exercise in juxtapositions. I feel really good about having been chosen for a good job, nevermind having been chosen when I was 7 months pregnant. And I came in with the usual first-day jitters, but I wasn’t as nervous as I was for my last (very recent) new job because I felt so much more secure knowing that my boss (and her boss, and HR, etc.) all knew from the outset that I was very pregnant and that my maternity leave was all arranged before I even set foot in the door.

But I also found that my coworkers were not informed of my condition. And when I think about it, why should they have been? So, we have a new person starting today and the top thing you should know about her is that she’s almost a mom. Nope, can’t see that email getting sent. But I guess that’s along the lines of what I expected because my new coworker’s question designed to confirm that I was, in fact, as pregnant as I appeared, threw me off balance. As did the glances my new coworkers stole at my belly when we were introduced (as well as the outright stares). Hey, my eyes are up here. So in some ways, I was totally at ease about starting a new job and meeting new people – those who already knew about the Baby. And in other ways, starting my new job was way more awkward than I expected.

I mean, they don’t feel comfortable asking me about it when we get introduced (and I don’t blame them! I wouldn’t know how to broach that subject) but I’m also feeling super uncomfortable and self-conscious that people are so obviously caught off guard for their new coworker to be so very, very pregnant. I don’t know how to transition from “tell me about what you do here” to “…so I’m due July 4!”

Once again, I find myself forced to revisit the notion of how to tell people.  In this instance, it’s telling people with whom I have no relationship (yet). I mean, was I supposed to arrive with a sandwich board that said “Hey! Thanks for the job! Taking bets – boy or girl?!” In some ways I think that would have been easier.

But it also makes me to reflect on “telling” people I don’t give 2 sh*ts about.  An example?  My boss from the museum that laid me off  last fall (who did nothing to save me from the axe) found out I was pregnant.  Evidently, she overheard someone talking about my baby shower and chimed in with, “Oh! Whew! Cuz I saw her when I was driving around a couple weeks ago and thought, um, she looks a little…uh….ok, so it all makes sense now. I’m so happy for her!!” I really do appreciate the good wishes – it is sweet how a Baby who hasn’t even been born yet brings out the well wishes, and they are genuine and heartfelt. But I have no personal relationship with my former boss. But a better example of how I grapple with this would be summed up in one word. Okay, two.

F*CKING FACEBOOK.

Doing a pregnancy announcement via a status update seems so self-absorbed, and more importantly, inauthentic to how I want to tell people, which is in person. The “hey everyone, look over here! I’m a have me a BABY!” announcement is just such an impersonal call for attention. Try as I might, I can’t come up with a way to phrase this announcement in a way that is genuine to me wanting to share my good fortune to those who might care without sounding like a shameless self-promotion. And that’s just not my style. Because if there’s anything I have loads of, it’s shame, people! The only ways I can think of to phrase it that don’t strike me as shameless self-promotion might be too subtle. I hate vaguebooking status updates so I don’t want to post something that people have to guess at. And if I’m anything, it’s not cutesy, so changing my profile pic to a pacifier, booties, or a stork just seem gimmicky. As a result, I’ve come down on the side of: not saying anything on Facebook for now. Especially since I’m not terribly active on Facebook. I often go weeks (months?) between status updates so it seems particularly egocentric to pop on only to give such a major announcement in order to gather my laurels and dash off into the ether again. I have friends on there who are really only ‘friends’…or, more accurately, acquaintances made long ago, and I could care less if they are up-to-date on my life. For real friends? If they’re local, I do get the great pleasure of telling them in person & seeing the look on their faces & getting hugs & all manner of well wishes.

For folks who I adore but who aren’t local? I guess email and/or skype will have to do. And for those I adore but who don’t keep up well via email (on their part – I am a GREAT emailer, people), it seems terrible to send a “Hey! Haven’t talked to you in months / years, but guess what?!” note. So I go back to: I guess I will have to post something on Facebook. I just don’t know what the hell that will be.

F*CKING FACEBOOK.

Update:  A month after this post, I posted a picture of my pregnant self on Facebook for all to see. Folks started rushing in with all kinds of love. Except for the folks who hadn’t gotten a personal announcement (either in person or via email/skype/phone). They expressed shock before expressing good will: I had NO IDEA! WHA?!?! etc. So I go back to my good old-fashioned uncertain unsteady, self-conscious self. Um. How was I supposed to handle this? I didn’t realize there was a protocol for those of us who aren’t super heavy FB addicts who post all personal declarations and self-absorbed crap. Can someone direct me to it?

<crickets>

Okay, then. I rest my case. I drew the line as best I could: those who needed to know knew before it went up on Facebook.

Unfiltered Thoughts: Advice for Working With a Pregnant Lady

I just started my new job a few days ago, and unlike at the interview, now I am obviously showing. I’ve made the switch to maternity clothes and I definitely look pregnant. My new coworkers seem to be really quiet and maybe even shy, so I’ve been keeping to myself, using my lunch hour for a walk since it seems like everyone here just kind of eats at their desks by themselves. Today, one of my coworkers approached me and said, “So….when are you….uh….” and then made a motion of ‘pregnant’ across her belly. And when I said “I’m due July 4” she said that she’d be winning the office pool, then. Because that doesn’t make the I-just-started-a-new-job-six-months-pregnant-lady feel awkward. At all.

So a bit of advice to those of you working with a pregnant lady, whether she’s a new coworker or not:

  1. Do not have a behind-her-back office pool about when she’s due (or if she’s even pregnant).
  2. Do not eat fish at your desk. Or cheeseburgers. Or anything with onions. In fact, stick to foods that produce no odor, or EAT IN THE KITCHEN or GO OUT TO EAT.
  3. Do not act jealous when your new coworker’s upcoming maternity leave is announced. That six weeks that sounds like “vaca” to you, moron? That’s for her to recover from squeezing a baby out her hoo-ha, and bonding with the little baby. And btw, she might feel bad that she’s not getting the 12 weeks that other new moms get at ‘real’ jobs under FMLA.
  4. Under no circumstances should you ask “Are you sure you’re not having twins hahaha?”

I’ll post more as they come up, but that’s a good starting point.

Welcome?

I started my new job today, 29 weeks pregnant. Last I saw them, I was not obviously pregnant. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but at the final interview, I was still fitting into my regular clothes without any problem. Now that I’m fully third-trimester, I’ve all of sudden had to replace my wardrobe overnight. I had to rush out over the weekend & get one workweek’s worth of maternity clothes – 2 dresses, 3 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, and one pair of jeans. There’s no doubt now that I’ve got a rather fashionable bump (thanks, Old Navy!).

Once again, I was nervous about the awkwardness of starting a new job while very pregnant, but two things were working in my favor: (1) I just started a (different) new job 2 weeks ago so that experience is still pretty fresh and (2) my new boss knows from the outset that I’m very, very pregnant (unlike my last job). As a result, I’m feeling quite warmly welcomed to my new job – they chose me even knowing that I will soon be gone for maternity leave –  and now that the awkwardness of getting through my second first day on the job in just two weeks is over with, I am relieved.

Until my new coworker approaches me and asks “so when are you, uh…” and then makes a motion of rubbing her own belly in lieu of finishing the question. I smile and say “July 4” she responds with an overly loud “I KNEW it! I told them you had to be about 30 weeks pregnant!”

Um, thank you, I guess, for your uncertainty about whether I’m just locally fat, but seriously? You guys couldn’t just, well, ask? Is there some sort of betting pool?! Scratch that welcome feeling. Now I just feel self-conscious as I waddle out to my car to go home.

When it Rains

Two weeks into my new job, I got offered another job. Note that I don’t say a better job, because I’m actually a little surprised to find that I really am enjoying what I’m doing now. But the new job is offering me way more money AND guaranteeing me at least 6 weeks of maternity leave. Unpaid, but that would be the case anywhere. And, with the unknown of my current job giving me “leave” having yet to be determined, a guaranteed maternity leave of any sort is a deal-maker.

So I start my new new job in 2 days!

An Embarrassment of Riches

Having just landed a new job, and having started it (and it’s actually a half-decent job at that), I just got offered another job. I won’t say that it’s better, except that it is. It pays way better, it’s closer to my house, it’s less structured, and I really like the people I’d be working for. So when I told them, I’m, uh, 6 months pregnant and will need some time off this summer, they were all, “ok, no problem. How much time will you need?”

So I guess I start a *new* new job in a week!