How I keep my head from exploding

July 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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One of my working mom friends was asking me the other day how I manage to do this, how I manage to stay at home with Liam and do freelance work. Granted, I’m only doing about 25 hours of work per month. But still, most SAHM’s (that’s short for Stay-at-home Mom, I discovered online) just focus on raising their child, going to play dates, and such. Moms continually say how hard this is, staying home with a child all day long. And the thought of adding freelance work on top of that sounds impossible from that perspective. But I’m finding that the tedium of just sitting around with your kid is the part that’s difficult, for me, anyway. Keeping my days busy keeps me sane.

Here’s how my days generally shake out. I get Liam up right as James leaves for work at 7:15 so we can have our goodbye kisses and wave out the window. We both have breakfast and watch the news, then I take a shower and Liam plays on the bathroom floor or stands by the curtain letting all the water drip on the floor. Annoying, but what ya gonna do? By 9:30 we’re ready to run errands, or go to baby yoga, or go to a play date, or ride the bike to the park if the weather is nice. On Mondays I clean the house (partly in the morning and partly during nap), and on Wednesdays I change sheets and towels and do the laundry (all when he’s awake). At noon we have lunch out with friends, or at home listening to NPR podcasts. Car Talk every Monday always brightens my day. We read stories and cuddle, then Liam’s in his crib by 1. I do all the dishes from breakfast and lunch, then check email and do whatever work came in until Liam wakes up, usually around 3 or 4. Then Liam has his yogurt and snack, and then we’ll either take the stroller out for a walk – Liam points at traffic and dogs while I listen to my podcasts – or he’ll walk around the block on his own, and we’ll meet James off the Metro. Sometimes I cook dinner and we all eat together. But most times I make Liam something separate and James will cook our dinner later. James and I divide out our evening chores – I feed the boy, he strips him down for a bath, I give him the bath, change him into PJs, make sure he brushes his teeth, read him his stories, and put him down while James cooks dinner. James picks up all the toys, and I do dishes. Sometimes we change things up, James doing the bath routine and me picking up toys. At any rate, Liam is in bed by 7 or 7:30, James and I eat and watch a show, and I’m back at my computer by 8:30 or so. If there’s more work to do, I’ll work until 10:30 or so, then do the dishes (unless I cooked), then maybe watch a show or read. Lights out around midnight.

In between all those moments I have time to update my blog, take photos and videos, upload all those photos and videos, send emails, and make calls to family. And I really do manage to watch a fair amount of TV, certainly more than I expected I would. On the weekends I take yoga or pilates while Liam gets some “daddy time.” So I do get a break. It really does feel like a blessed life. I remember when I was working full time, and Alice would be playing with Cameron and Liam in the living room. I longed to join them instead of working. I would wake up every morning wishing I could just stay home with him instead of either dropping him off or getting up early to let Alice and Cameron in. But I also loved my job, and couldn’t imagine not doing graphic design anymore. And I wasn’t sure how we’d be able to afford our rent on one income. Now it seems I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Right now, the way things stand, my life feels balanced. It’s what I’ve been striving for all year, and I think I’ve finally attained it. Sure, some days are more hectic than others, either because of a work deadline or because Liam’s giving me a hard time. But other days, like today, there’s no work to do, and Liam takes a marathon nap. I doubt this balance will last forever. As they say, nothing gold can stay. But for now, it works.


Burning the Candle at Both Ends

March 17, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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That’s what I’ve been up to lately. And I’m surprised how much stamina I still have. Every morning I get up with Liam at 7:30. We have breakfast. We take a shower. (Or rather, I take a shower, and Liam throws toys into the bathtub. He seems to have a healthy respect for the edge, and hasn’t fallen in again.) We brush our teeth. That we do together, and man, oh, man is it freakin’ cute. The highlight of my morning. Tuesday we went to the zoo so I could test out my new Boba carrier. I ended up wearing Liam in the front (I need more practice to get him on my back in public), and the carrier performed very well. I was able to get him in and out with ease, he seemed comfortable, and while I could feel a little strain in my shoulders, it seemed I was carrying the bulk of his weight on my hips. So i think this has passed the test, and I feel safe taking him sight seeing sans stroller next week when Charissa’s here. Aside from our carrier test, we saw the elephants doing tricks, which elicited many delightful squeals from the lil’ guy. James has promised to go to the zoo with us on an upcoming weekend, and I have a feeling he’ll enjoy it more than he thinks, just to see Liam’s reaction.

I’m getting off track here.

So, ahem, zoo. Then home for a nap. Except Mr. No Naps took a snooze in the car for 20 minutes, and that was that. So after playing, and dinner, and bath, and bottle, and bedtime, I set to work on my freelance projects. I’m working on both a website and continuing my work on SVC while the art director is serving on a Grand Jury. I spent all last week taking care of Liam and sneaking in work during his naps and at night, staying up until 11 or midnight every night. Somehow I gathered up the energy to attend a play date at the Rio in Gaithersburg this morning. I met up with a whole bunch of other moms, some new and some I’d met, and we took a stroll, let the kids play on the playground, and had lunch. I almost didn’t go, but I’m so glad I did. It’s nice to connect with other moms, hear what they’re going through (most of the kids were older than Liam, so I got lots of insight for our future), and see Liam interact with other kids and adults. He’s such a little ham, still not as interested in the kids, but he can really cheese it up for the adults. Waving, smiling, and they can’t help but wave and smile back. 

Back at home, Mr. No Naps struck again, but I let him chill out in the crib for awhile so I could get some work done. I was hoping he’d get bored, lay down, take a nap. Wishful thinking.

There is an end in sight to these very full days – I’m wrapping up my SVC work this weekend, and the website should be done the week after. But I think both of these projects are going to turn into monthly gigs in April, so I’ll have more juggling ahead. The pace on both projects shouldn’t be as frantic as it has been these last couple weeks, so I’m hoping I don’t run myself ragged.

Workin’ Girl

March 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’m devoting my entire week to freelance work, and it’s good to be back. Liam was a little puzzled when I packed him in the car early this morning, but he gave a delighted yelp when we knocked on Cameron’s door. Alice gave him a welcome smile and hug, and Cam gave him a cute, clumsy wave. As I was leaving, I half expected him to cry. But, no, he was like, “Whatever, mama. Bye, bye.”

Back at home, I set to work laying out pages for my old magazine, and it was like slipping on a misplaced pair of beloved sneakers. I’d forgotten a few of my shortcuts, but in no time I settled into that familiar pace. A comfortable place. Until I realized I’d been sitting at my computer for three straight hours without getting up. I guess my body’s not used to that anymore. My fingers tingled, my joints felt stiff, and I had to do a little jog around the house to feel right again. 

Frozen hands and stiff joints aside, it feels good to work again. Staying home with Liam full time is work, too, but it doesn’t hold the same sense of accomplishment as a to-do list of work-related tasks neatly crossed off. I think this is that balance I was looking for – a stay-at-home gig with a smattering of fun design work to keep my mind from turning to mush. I don’t feel guilty for dropping Liam off because I know I’ll be home again with him soon. And I don’t feel trapped as a full-time mom because I know there’s more work coming. So far, so good.

I’m especially excited for spring to arrive. My mommy groups are revving up to high gear, sending out invitations left and right to all sorts of outdoor walks, play times in the park, and picnics. I can tell Liam misses playing outside. The parks here are a muddy, snowy mess still. But with temperatures hovering in the 40s and 50s, that will change soon. Or we’ll get another blizzard. With the winter we’ve had, it could go either way.

The Devil’s in the Decisions

November 3, 2009 at 12:38 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

You know those people who make tough decisions, stand behind them, and never look back? They know what they want, and they know exactly what they need to get it? Their resolve is steadfast, and they have no regrets? I am not those people. I hate those people. Those people can bite me.

You’ve read my recent whinings about losing my job, trying to start a freelance career, trying to learn web design. Sorry for all of that. Whining seems to be my MO as of late. So I’ve been agonizing over what to do with myself… what do I want? Freelancing seemed a good fit, until I realized that it’s actually more work than a regular full-time job, and until you get clients, there’s a lot of sitting around and stressing out involved. If I didn’t have to worry about childcare I’d probably muddle through, but with so much work going to the plethora of other out-of-work-turned-freelance designers and no money to fund my nanny after the end of this year, I’m realizing what a foolhardy endeavor I set for myself. Did I really think I’d start up a new business, learn web design fundementals and programs, attract clients, and stay afloat, all in the span of 13 weeks?

Well, ok, I didn’t. Not really. If I’m being honest here, I knew my choice from the get go. But, see, I’m not one of those people. The ones who can make the decisions without agonizing over every possibility. When I got the news of my impending layoff, before money and ambition started to cloud my judgement, I knew that I’d be more than content to stay at home and raise my son. But then, oh then, the wheels started turning…could we afford it? Would James go along with it? Would I miss working? Or worse yet, would my brain turn to Jello without meaningful adult interaction?! Do you see what I’m up against here? I somehow convinced myself that I had to at least try to get clients, or try to get a job, before I would consider staying home. I had to fail at everything else before I would resort to that. I wanted the choice to be out of my hands. Because otherwise I would second-guess this choice, I might start to regret it, or worse yet, resent my family for it.

Yes, I know, I’m a lunatic. Overthinking and indecisive…not such a good combination.

I entered a crossroads last week, and in a rare fit of decisiveness, I gave our notice with the nanny share. That was one decision that was absolutely killing me. We love our nanny, we really like the family we’re sharing with, it was so much work to set it all up, and now it was all coming to nothing. But they took it well, and I fully intend to keep in contact with them next year. We’ll be in the share until the end of year, or it might end sooner if they find a replacement before that.

In the meantime I’m a bit listless. I’m still plugging away at my web design studies, to what end I’m not sure. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to use all of these skills on an upcoming project, if it ever comes to fruition. I’m figuring I can hire a babysitter if any freelance projects land in my lap next year. (Ha, like that’s how it happens!) But I’m really hoping to focus on being a mom. I had a hard time identifying with stay-at-home moms when I was working, and I suspect I’ll have the same feeling with working moms next year. I don’t feel like I fit in either category anymore. One thing is for sure…we’re going to be a lot poorer than before. I know I’m very fortunate to even get to entertain the thought of staying home. So many moms I know would love to, but don’t have the financial means. We’re right on the border…unemployment benefits will help, and a big raise for James next year will offset the bulk of it. But we’re going to have to tighten our belts. A lot.

So, here goes. A new direction. A new life. I can’t guarantee the whining will stop. But I’m hopeful. Very hopeful.


Sorry for the delay

October 10, 2009 at 10:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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It’s been a busy week in the Fletcher household. I should start with last Saturday’s trip to the Baltimore Aquarium with my KC friend Jenny, who was in town for a conference. Last time Liam and I went to the Aquarium with Steph, Jack and Mira back in April, he slept pretty much the whole time. This time he was wide awake. We checked the stroller as required, and I thought I’d try the back carrier they give out to carry your baby in. I figured it would offer more support than the Bjorn. But after about 15 minutes, it was clear that this contraption was built for taller bodies than mine. We quickly swapped it out for the Bjorn, which I had thankfully thought to bring along, and all was much better. Liam delighted with the bubble tanks in the entryway (in the photo here), smacking his slobbery hands on the glass fishtanks, and waiting until everyone was completely quiet to yell “Daaaa Da!” at the very top of his lungs. That’s m’boy. We ended the evening at an upscale seafood joint on the harbor, and Liam was so well behaved, I think he made Jenny think twice about not having kids. Ok, that’s a stretch — she did compare him to her cat on more than one occasion. Jokingly, of course. (Right, Jen?)

Speaking of baby carriers, our mutual college friend Christie has graciously sent me her outgrown Ergo, her replacement for the Bjorn, which she also sent us last year. We’ve had the Bjorn since Liam’s birth and have loved it so far, but as Liam gets bigger (and heavier!), we know its days are numbered. The Ergo is versatile enough to handle a much larger child…but I have to say, on first inspection, the array of complicated straps and buckles is intimidating. Made worse by the video tutorials on how to use it. It involves a lot of reaching around behind your back to clasp buckles and bouncing your baby precariously around to your back. This is going to take some practice. Thankfully, the Bjorn is technically rated to carry up to 25 lbs, and at Liam’s last checkup, he was 19.5. We’ve got some time.

The rest of this week I’ve been going to a basic web design course, and I’ve decided this is the direction I’d like to take my career. So, while I still plan on picking up clients as I can, I’m going to put the aggressive part of my networking plans on hold while I take more classes, do online tutorials, and learn Dreamweaver top to bottom while I still have the luxury of living on my severance. I contacted the unemployment office, and it looks like I’ll be qualifying come December, so that should help some. I’ll have to apply for jobs, but that’s not an entirely bad idea — if the price is right, and I can pick up more web design experience, it might be the better move for me than freelancing right now. We’ll see….I’m also not ruling out the idea of full-time, stay-at-home mommy, but only when we can afford it, which won’t be for awhile.

Focus. Seriously.

September 29, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I bought this daily planner thing, and every day I list out all of the things I need to do that day for the new business. And I still feel unfocused. I’m wondering how long it’s going to take before I feel like I’m really doing this. I’m really in it. Maybe it would help if I list out all of the things I’ve actually accomplished instead of getting all blurry-eyed and nervous staring at all the things I have yet to do. I designed my logo and picked out a name for my business: Amanda Fletcher Design. I was going to rack my brain to come up with something fantastic, something original and inspiring. But I decided the best way to market myself is through my name. It’s easy to spell, the domain name is available, and I’d prefer to think of myself as an independent designer rather than the owner of a graphic design business. There will be time for that…perhaps when I’m not in the throws of early motherhood. Right now I just want to get the bills paid and spend time with my baby while he’s still a baby. And avoid going on food stamps.

Ok, I’m being melodramatic. We have plenty in savings, and I’m looking into Self Employment Assistance through the Maryland Unemployment office next week. So no need to start panhandling just yet.

Focus. Ok. I’ve ordered paper samples from various business card printers. I’ve finished my website, and my new URL and new email will be live very soon. I’ve gotten pages and pages of advice from other graphic designers. I’ve read books on starting my business and pricing and ethics standards. I’ve set up a Letter of Engagement template to use as a contract for smaller clients. Ha ha, all of my clients are small right now.

Focus. I signed up for a web design course at Montgomery College that starts next Monday. I finished one job for a client, sent the bill, and already received a check. Good client. Good. I’ve sent out emails to people I know, asking to forward my information on. I’ve called and left messages with people. I haven’t followed up. I hate calling people. I really do.

Focus. I created job hunting profiles on Discovery Channel’s website, National Geographic, USAjobs. I thought best to hedge my bets, though I doubt I’ll have any time to follow up on these. I got some great advice on applying for governement contracts. I hired an accountant and met with him on Monday to go over everything I need to do to prepare for taxes. I’ve kept an organized filing system for receipts, tax-deductable bills, and folders for each client or potential client. I checked out for software training. I’ve bookmarked websites about printing services, local freelance and women’s business organizations, design tutorials, government contract bidding. And I bet I’ve done more that I can’t think of right now.

Man, that seems like a lot of stuff to get done in three weeks. So why does it feel like I’ve hardly done anything?

Mandy Goes Back to School

September 25, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’ve decided to get serious about this web design career path, so I’m enrolling in a couple of classes at the local community college. I’m hopeful that by the time my severance runs out I’ll be able to offer more lucrative web services…assuming anyone is looking to hire. I have a feeling freelance tends to dry up around the holidays. And the market for full-time work, forget about it. But I have a few promising leads on the print side that may come to fruition before then, and a few more for next year. And once I’ve set up my business with an LLC and printed up my business cards, I should be able to put the networking side of the business plan in high gear. I’m even meeting with an accountant on Monday. La-dee-da!

In baby news, Liam and I went to the annual Tot Swap in Gaithersburg, where I found a heavy winter coat, a toy telephone, some touchy-feely baby books, and — yes! — a jogging stroller! It’s not quite as nice as the one I borrowed from Emma, but for $40 it’ll certainly do. At last count I have six strollers at my house right now. Six! But one is going back to Emma, one is our broken double stroller for the nanny, and one is the new double stroller that I got for free from the Silver Spring yahoo listserv. And one is the snap and go that fits with Liam’s infant seat, which I doubt we’ll be using much longer. Once Liam hits 20 lbs, we need to get him a bigger seat, the one that doesn’t come out and snap into the stroller. So that leaves us with the jogger and an umbrella stroller — and I’d say two strollers is a reasonable number to have, yes?

Weekend Update

September 19, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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All week Liam’s been practicing his B’s, D’s, M’s and R’s, enough so that I even caught some video of it. But this morning while playing in our bed, he clearly looked up at James and said, “Da da!” Put a big ol’ grin on da da’s face. Our boy’s a talkin! We think he’s a teethin’, as well. Probably the top teeth, this time. Poor lil guy was all stuffy and slobbery today.

On Thursday I decided I needed a break from all my freelance business worrying, so I went to see the new Harry Potter movie. The Hench Aussie warned me there were a lot of changes from the book, but I still enjoyed it. It was nice to lose myself in a movie. And eat some buttered popcorn. James and I will be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary this Saturday, so we’re hoping Alice can come babysit. I’m sure we’ll do something thoroughly unoriginal, like dinner and a movie. We’re both too stressed and exhausted to come up with anything romantic to do. We’re both going through a tough time in our careers, and it’s times like these that I marvel at how truly lucky I am to have married my hubby. He fixes what’s broken, even when he’s not clear how. He calms me down when I get overwhelmed. He’s endlessly patient with me when I’m upset about something and I take it out on him. And while, yes, he drives me crazy with all of his book-buying, and he’s about the laziest cook I’ve ever known (I’m the second laziest, heh), I can’t imagine anyone else I want to grow old with.

Speaking of lazy cooking, I’ve decided it’s time we try out Let’s Dish, a service I heard about through one of my mommy groups. I first heard about this concept a few years ago, but it seemed lavish at the time. Now James and I barely have the time and energy to cook dinner each night, and we find ourselves eating out more than ever. At about $5 per serving, we’d be spending about as much as we do eating out, and this food is a lot healthier. I’m still a little unclear about how this all works, but as long as it means an easy, healthy meal each night without the hassle of planning, I’m willing to try anything.

Today I bought a day planner. Yes, I know, how 1994 of me. Blackberries kind of scare me, to tell you the truth. This is all part of my effort to Get Organized (triple underlined and taped to my desk.) I’ve langished the last two weeks over the multitude of things I’m trying to accomplish, and I think planning out every hour of my day will help keep me on track. I’ve been feeling completely ADD lately, easily distracted by incoming emails, IM, phone calls, other, less important, tasks on my list. This book has been immensely helpful so far, and I’ve also got another book all about pricing that will make a very handy reference. Contracts, billing, taxes….it’s enough to make your head spin! But one thing I’ve taken away from my reading is that a successful business isn’t built overnight. I need to take one step at a time. I need to focus on each task at hand and complete it before moving to the next. And while I’m facing the most challenging career point I’ve encountered thus far, I’m also facing an opportunity to attain that life balance I’m desperate to have. One where I’m a mother and a graphic artist, and I have the freedom to choose the time I spend in each of those roles. It might mean less money, but Liam will only be a baby once in his life, and you can’t put a price on that.

Aaaaand Go

September 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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First step to creating a new business…overcoming the technological hurdles. Admittedly, when it comes to computers, my frustration threshold is abysmally low. My first inclination at signs of Trouble is to drop the F-bomb and hit the keys Very. Hard. Then throw a little tantrum. Now I call in my IT department (AKA James) whose knowledge of computers may only be slightly above mine, but whose frustration threshold is considerably higher. So he’s calmly opening windows, trying different solutions, and I’m standing over his shoulder fuming. Not at him, at the computer. But sometimes I get a little on him. Sorry, honey. It’s a thankless job, I know.

So that was basically our weekend, setting up my home office in between feedings and naps. Harder than it sounds — when Liam wasn’t sleeping, he was crying and hungry. We caught ourselves a family cold, so that didn’t help matters. When Alice got here this morning, Liam was practically jumping out of my arms at her, like, “Get me away from these people!” Poor kid. I was totally ready for work this morning, too. But after I shot and uploaded this video.

This morning, more hurdles. James and I bought a wireless keyboard a few years ago because, well, how cool is wireless, right? Except that it’s a totally piece of shit…when it stops working, and i can only type every third letter, i want to bang my head against the wall. Plus, this computer I’m using — one James bought for its ultra-light-weightedness — only had four USB ports, and the USB hub I have wasn’t working right, either. So I had to make a dash to Best Buy before my head exploded. How nice is it to just run an errand without any explanations to a boss?

With everything properly set up (and a keyboard that actually works, for only $20. Bite me, expensive wireless!), I got my first business call, yay! And I realized what an utter tool I am on the phone. Seriously, did I just say that? Way to sound desperate for work! Nine years of emailing, IM, and one-way conference calls has left me with little in the way of phone skills. Number 43 on the Massive To-Do List: Work on Phone Skills. Let’s hope I didn’t just talk myself out of my first gig.

My Last Day

September 3, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It all boils down to this, my last day. I took a little trip down memory lane via Outlook this morning, digging through emails almost a decade old. Kudos from my boss on my promotion or a particularly good cover design, a funny forward about office pranks, an artful birthday card. Fifty-three messages in my “Important Info” folder deemed completely unimportant now. I had to write that email, the one I’ve read countless times from others on their last day, thanking everyone for being such great colleagues, a wonderful group to work with, keep in touch. I got replies, some heartfelt, some short and sweet. I keep thinking how much easier my freelance career would be to kick off if I were still back in KC, but I also think how much sadder this day would be if I were still in the office. Instead of packing a cardboard box to take to my car at the end of the day, I will be packing up my computer equipment and taking it to the UPS store tomorrow. It all ends with a whimper.

But then, after a holiday weekend’s rest, my work begins. Setting up of the home office, updating of the website, calling and emailing everyone I know to please, please, give me some work, yes? If I need a break, I can play with the baby, who will still be in our nanny share until I can’t afford it anymore. Or I can get a massage, so lovingly gifted to me by my staff. Ex-staff. The ones I’ll still be IMing every day, I’m sure.

I think I might even do a movie day. The last movie I saw was Star Trek, and there are so many more out I’m dying to see. When else am I going to have a chance, while the baby’s with the nanny, and I don’t have to work?

Work and rest. Yin and Yang. Balance. It’ll come.

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