This one is written in honour of my editor, Pat Tracy, who's currently enjoying a well-earned stint of rest and relaxation on the East Coast - and who so graciously entrusts her office to this "working mom" during her summer vacations.
Occupying her office has got me thinking, even more than usual, about work and life and motherhood and the balance of all those things.
Somehow, I feel the title of "working mom" more keenly in these times when I know I occupy the big chair, and it feels as though there's less flexibility in my world if anything should befall me or my child. Case in point: My wee muffin had a runny nose yesterday morning, and I found myself starting to draw up contingency plans for what I would do if said runny nose turned into a home-from-daycare call. It didn't. But the very fact that I could feel myself starting to get stressed about what would happen if it did just reminded me of what a balancing act this whole "working mom" gig is.
(You'll note I'm using "working mom" in quotes, since frankly I don't know a mom who is anything other than "working," whether she stays at home with her kids, works from a home office, goes out to work at another location or something else in between. In my case, it means I go out to work in an office, but I don't pretend to think I work harder than someone who doesn't. But that's all an aside to this post, so bear with me.)
In any case, musing about the life of a "working mom" and managing the newsroom at the same time got me thinking about working motherhood from the other side: from the employer's chair.
And I started thinking: Why would an employer want to hire a mom? Especially a mom with small children? Isn't it just all hassle and drama and petty annoyance after petty annoyance, interspersed with too many stories about the latest thing my ever-so-precious child said and too many photos of my ever-so-precious child hanging in my cubicle?
The answer I arrived at - and very quickly at that - surprised me a little.
Which is to say, no. Hiring a mom - especially one with small children - isn't bad for employers. It's good beyond all telling.
You don't think so? Well, here are my personal top 5 reasons why it's good to have a "working mom" on your working team:
* Moms are multi-taskers: That pile of paperwork, that stack of messages, that inbox full of emails and to-do list full of projects are nothing for a mom. She's used to keeping a car running, keeping kids fed, getting the laundry and housework done, juggling the playdate and soccer and swim-class schedules, attending the parent-teacher meetings, making cupcakes for the bake sale and remembering to keep the photo albums up to date - all while attempting to answer a steady stream of "what's that?" and "why?" questions, sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm ninety-three times, play several rounds of Ring Around The Rosies and find the batteries for the Little People bus, most of the above with a baby and/or toddler attached to boob or hip or leg, as the case may be. She can't remember the last time she only had one thing to do - and hey, the great thing about being at work is that she gets to use both her hands to do them, and there's no one next to her tugging on her shirt constantly asking "Why, mommy, why?" Pile on the work, boss, mama's used to it.
* Moms are problem-solvers: This one's just a gimme. I mean, who else would you go to in a crisis but the Chief Tamer of Tantrums, the Chief Kisser of Booboos, the Chief Doler-Out of Band-Aids, the Chief Fixer of Broken Objects, the Chief Installer of New Batteries and the general Chief Maker-of-Rightness-When-The-World-Is-Awry? Moms are used to being infallible, invincible and indomitable in the face of whatever life throws at them. You can try to pose a problem a mom can't solve, but good luck. She'll outwit, outplay and outlast anyone, anytime, anywhere.
* Moms can handle drama: Got a staffer who melts down under pressure? An oil-and-water pair of workers who bicker too much? Office politics that lead to all kinds of bad feelings on all sides? A mom will just laugh it all off. Anyone who's handled a screeching baby, a tantruming toddler or a full-of-attitude tweener has been there, done that, seen it all - and she ain't gonna get ruffled about the stuff that's making her colleagues crazy. She's practised at taking a deep breath, counting to ten and entering the conversation with a smile, even when she feels like screaming. Motherhood brings along its own Zen.
* Moms are nice people: Yes, it's true. As a breed, they are used to being patient, kind and pleasant in circumstances that would be trying to lesser mortals. They keep their temper, they know how to model polite behaviour, and they're used to pasting on smiles in sometimes less-than-ideal circumstances. Failing technology? Multiple looming deadlines? Colleagues in crisis? Irate customers on the phone? Get a mom to deal with it. True, they will randomly forget themselves and ask you to "use your words," and they might occasionally slip into that too-sunshiny tone of voice they use on their tantruming toddler - but they won't lose their cool on you.
* Moms are motivated: As a species, you won't find a more motivated breed than moms. And the fact that most of them are motivated by good old-fashioned guilt makes them hugely productive workers. You see, moms live with this constant fear that at any moment they might be expected to drop everything and run to their child's side in the case of accident, illness or other emergency. And even though it almost never happens, this constant fear makes them work faster, harder and stronger than everybody else. They're constantly over-compensating because they fear they might not be able to get everything done if they don't. And then when the emergency doesn't happen, they're always ahead of schedule and starting to work on next week's projects - because, after all, next week that emergency might happen ... and of course it doesn't, but they're going to keep working faster, harder and stronger than everybody else just in case it does ... You get the idea.
OK, I know I promised five reasons, but I offer up a sixth bonus reason for free.
The real, true, number one reason to have a mom on your working team?
* Moms are crazy. Yes, there's no one else who would do such an enormous, exhausting, awe-inspiringly important job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, for no pay and too little appreciation from the world at large. Clearly, anyone willing to take on the job title of "mom" has a few screws loose - in the best possible way. It's the kind of "crazy" that leads to creativity and joy and an open mind and gratitude and inspiration and a genuine, heartfelt appreciation of the world around her - and of the wondrous, indescribable happiness that comes along with five minutes of quiet, a chair of her own and a hot cup of coffee.
So hire a mom. She may occasionally ask you if you've washed your hands after eating, and she might share too many Facebook status updates about her precious gem of a child.
But she sure as heck won't let you down.