Raising Baby T. Rex: Having It All Is a Big, Heteronormative Lie

I started a new job this week. Monday was my first day. With the new gig comes a new schedule and a new office, which is my home! Yeah, I know! I get to work from home every day and it’s been amazing for work/life balance.

Most of my colleagues are on the West Coast, so their workday starts around mid-day for me, which also gives me the freedom of flexibility. Some days this week I worked regular hours, but other days I worked later in the evening and started later in the morning. That meant I could take a walk to the library with Remi and Waffle one morning. It meant I could take Remi to the park to play for a short period of time one afternoon. It meant having time to make and drink my coffee before diving into my email in the mornings.

I’m working on a more set schedule, but I think I plan to start a little later in the day going into the early evening and even work late at night at least a couple of times per week. It’s better to be working when everyone else is working on the West Coast and it gives me the mornings for my other work like writing for Autostraddle, managing book-related speaking gigs, morning coffee dates, grading papers for the class I teach, and maybe… maybe… maybe even finally putting together the proposal for my next book. It’s beyond what I can comprehend right now, but maybe I’ll even read a book or two for pleasure! My own pleasure! What an idea! The world is wide!

Ultimately, it’s also been super frustrating for Remi having me home all the time. She understands that Waffle and I work. However, she doesn’t really understand that when I’m at home, I’m still working. She gets so discouraged that I can’t or, in her mind, won’t play with her when I’m sitting right here in the dining room. She’s great at playing by herself, but she’s beginning to want to play with other kids and people instead of just doing independent play. It’s even harder to say no to her when she comes over to my chair, grabs my sleeve or arm and says, “Mommy, want to play? Let’s go, Mommy! Take my hand!” I feel like the worst parent because as much as I say, “Mommy’s working, sweetie,” she doesn’t really understand that I’m not just ignoring her.

It hit peak guilt feelings when I was giving her a bath and she was playing with a little plastic walrus. She’s really into talking about families right now. So she was talking about the walrus’ family, who was not there (because the walrus is not part of a family set, it’s just the one walrus). “Where’s mommy?” she asked the walrus. “Mommy working,” she replied to herself in a forlorn tone. It broke me.

The other side of the coin is that it hasn’t been all cupcakes and rainbows working with a toddler running amok, either. As I’m getting to know my new colleagues, I’m also having Remi popping into the video meeting screen to say, “Hello,” which is the least distracting thing she does. Once this week, I had to deal with a potty training issue while on a video call. Another time, I had to say, “Hold that thought. My cat apparently puked on the floor and my kid is touching it right now. Just give me two minutes.” Not the ideal first impression at a new job in my own estimation.

Most of the staff work remotely, too, but most people seem to have school-age kids or a daycare situation or fur kids or no kids. Everyone has been so super chill about my mom stuff so far, but I always have this little shaking rattle of doubt in the back of my mind nagging me, “You’re being unprofessional!” “Everyone is judging you!” “You’re annoying them!” I didn’t mention in my interview that I’d have Remi at home with me and I didn’t hide it, either. I don’t think it’s a problem at all, as far as my employer is concerned. Regardless, the nagging internalized paranoia and fear around it still pops up when I have to hide from my kid in the kitchen to take an important phone call or interrupt a video call because Remi needs my urgent attention.

What I’ve learned is that parents and moms especially, even cool radical-minded queer moms, even boss-lady moms with lots of confidence in their own abilities, really can’t escape the “working mom” bullshit. It’s just there, in its messy brilliance. Brilliant because it keeps moms from overthrowing the patriarchy by emotionally tying them to the home and brilliant in that the tethers are there even when every possible accommodation is made (a co-parent, a flexible schedule, work-from-home benefits, a feminist employer) because the tethers are planted deep in the collective subconscious.

I feel obligated to make it look easy breezy to work at home with a kid because I pressure myself to appear as though everything is under control. If I’m bringing Remi to a lobby day, for example, I can’t take on other roles at the lobby day, but I still try to pretend that I can. Even though that’s stressful and unpredictable AF. I feel obligated to act as though I can do it all. It doesn’t feel good.

In the LGBTQ college class I teach, we recently talked about the self-monitoring society driven by capitalism as it related to queer theory. Our self-monitoring society comes from the fear of always being surveilled and judged, always in danger of becoming a target for punishment. So we create ideal images of ourselves based on the values that capitalism promotes (heteronormativity, cisnormativity, class wealth, social status) and buy and squeeze into those versions of what success, happiness, and wealth look like.

The so-called “working mom” is just another piece of the self-monitoring society. In a heteronormative and cisnormative capitalist society, women are producers of babies a.k.a. future workers and baby-makers. If women are working, in some ways this is doubly good for capitalism because they make babies and they produce additional work and consume even more goods in their two spheres (home and work). But we have to keep women in this cishet world making and caring for their families even as they’re working or else the whole system fails. We aren’t producing workers and we aren’t consuming enough goods to uphold the status quo. It’s ridiculous that I’ve bought into this on some implicit, repressed level of my brain.

I’m tired of feeling constantly under my own self-inflicted assumed surveillance. Particularly because literally, no one is watching me. My new employer is explicitly feminist. I don’t think they care that I have a kid and sometimes that kid interrupts video calls. I also don’t think it’s fair for me to try to make it look simple. It’s not simple for me. It’s not simple for Remi. It’s not simple for other parents and other people who want to be parents. It’s a farce to keep trying to make it look simple. That’s how the self-monitoring society keeps replicating itself over and over.

I remember saying to a feminist mom, when I was first considering having kids, “You make it look so easy,” meaning having a little kid and navigating childcare and work and all of that. She said, “Thank you,” but it was a weird comment for me to make (I now realize). She probably wanted to say, “IT’S SUPER FUCKING HARD YOU HAVE NO IDEA THANK YOU VERY MUCH!”

All that to say, it’s hard. It’s fine that it’s hard. It’s worth it that it’s hard. It’s messy and every day I’m tired, but also grateful that I get to spend another day with Remi, however dissatisfied she is with my work-from-home situation.

There are moments of immense joy, like taking a quick break to go to the playground while it’s still warm and bright out and watching Remi lay on the ground looking up at the sky with her eyes closed, feeling the resplendence of early spring sunshine on her skin. There are moments when I can take five minutes between meetings or work to play a round of “horsey” and “doctor.”

There are also moments when Remi laments to her toy walrus that, “Mommy’s working,” and it breaks my damn heart. There are also times when I have to find childcare so I do things that were relatively simple before like give a mid-day presentation or join an important meeting or attend an evening event. I look forward to the day Remi goes to preschool and I get some of my time fully back during the day. I cherish the days I have babysitting lined up so I can escape to my home office for a while.

I’m really lucky, y’all. I’m happy, too. Waffle says I seem extra happy since I’ve started my new job. I love the life that I’m building and I’m so privileged and lucky to be able to build it. I just don’t want to pretend that I’m “having it all” any more. I owe y’all more than that.


4 Queer Parenting Things I’m Currently Overprocessing

1. Try Again!

Something we initiated early in Remi’s toddlerhood is the concept of “try again,” which has truly served us well. Would recommend. Remi is a kid who wants to do everything by herself and has been that way pretty much as soon as she could articulate it through grunts and hand gestures. We’ve used “try again” as a way to encourage her to do it herself when she’s struggling (sometimes secretly helping sight unseen to Remi).

It has de-escalated many an almost-tantrum. Now she enthusiastically says, “Try again!” whenever she struggles with something. Sometimes she says, “Try again,” about things we really don’t want her to try again, like launching herself off of the window seat or banging her head on the wall. So I’d give it a 8/10, would recommend but could result in dangerous levels of confidence.


2. Grown Up Time Is Special Time

I’m referencing a lyric from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, from the song “I Like to Be With My Family” in the subheading here. Did you get it? Probably not, unless you have a child, but just play along.

Waffle and I had a long-scheduled adults-only weekend a couple of weeks ago, during which we went through a theatre gauntlet in NYC. It was exactly Waffle’s kind of vacation. Overscheduled, cram-packed with fun, and we had a good time. For the record, my type of vacation includes laying around eating good food and not talking to anyone. I think this picture sums it up.

We don’t do a weekly date night, but we do take time away occasionally and I think both we and Remi are better for it. This vacay was all about Waffle’s type of vacation because I get to travel alone for work fairly regularly, during which I can lay about and talk to no one to my heart’s content.


3. Things I Googled This Week

  • rochester preschool half day
  • part-time day care rochester
  • potty training reward ideas
  • work from home with toddler
  • toddler best age daycare

4. Jeter + Remi Watch 2019

I know you’re all wondering about the cat. Obviously. So, well, I mean, it isn’t perfect, but this happened after a bath this week! For about five minutes, then Remi started jumping around and Jeter was outta there faster than you can say O-M-G-this-scary-thing-really-isn’t-leaving-is-it.

We need to refill his cativan prescription, so this was a fully unmedicated situation, which was pretty good. Maybe they’re be friends… in like 10 years if Jeter’s still alive.

KaeLyn is a 35-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 207 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. Try again is a really good way to put it. My mum read or saw something that said that kids who are told they are good at trying do better than kids who are told they are clever because natural ability is rare and trying and trying is a better way of learning. This means that I find myself telling my kid “I bet you can do that if you try, you’re really good at trying new things”.
    She voluntarily ate cabbage this week so I may have peaked at parenting.

  2. Thank you for this. This week school closed early and I had to bring my eight-year-old to work. While my male boss didn’t flinch, I was on my own with my daughter and a candidate coming to interview. I stashed her in a corner, asked a male colleague to keep an eye out, and shut my door. No one seemed to care, but I was kicking myself for not being better at this (how?! it was actually impossible to do better) where better means having no visible motherhood beyond a picture on my desk. Thanks patriarchy for that. Anyway, I absolutely hear where you’re coming from.

  3. There’s a small rant coming. Warning!

    “I cherish the days I have babysitting lined up so I can escape to my home office for a while.” Did you pull this directly from my brain? I somehow decided it would be a good idea to take on *a lot* of work right now (I, too, work from home with a little)and every day I have a babysitter lined up is a GIFT. I’m also grateful that my spouse has a very 9-5 gig so I can work furiously on nights/weekends when it’s necessary, but it can be so much, and those are also prime socializing hours and I’m tired of being like “no, I’m working” to everyone in my life! I also feel guilty every time I book a sitter, because not paying for childcare is part of the reason I’m working from home to start with, ya know?

    A related aside — any time I have to turn down plans, people (even queer folks!) often decide it’s because of my kid. Even if I’m explicitly like “I’m not available to hang out because I have a lot of deadlines next week” I’m met with “well, you do have a baby now.” The baby didn’t overbook me–I overbooked myself. It goes back to what you were saying — no matter how much progress we make, if you’re a parent and the world views you as a woman, even if you’re queer as hell and co-parenting with another queer as hell person, it’s easy to feel pressured into putting up an “everything’s perfect” front. (Otherwise people might think your baby is ruining your life when you just need to learn to say no with your mouth.)

  4. KaeLyn, these updates are one of my favorite things on AS — thanks so much for sharing! I don’t have any kids, but I find the false “work/life” dichotomy such an interesting space for exploration right now, and I enjoy the way you process all the complexities that come with it. Congrats on the new gig!!!!

  5. These columns are seriously the best. I went back to work 2 weeks ago; I had wanted to take 12 weeks of parental leave but could only afford 8. I enjoy having a schedule again and using my brain to do science during the day, but I also miss my baby and my wife fiercely and feel guilty constantly. I’m lucky that my bosses/colleagues all have small children and are the first to advocate workdays that allow daycare pickups, school holidays, toddler performances, and pediatric visits. I don’t even work in an explicitly queer/feminist environment, and my (male) bosses are the first to make room for family time.

    Still, it’s been hard to adjust to working mommyhood for me and stay at home mommyhood for my wife. We both feel stretched too thin and like we’re not doing enough.

    However, this week I also got to meet other mothers of my daughter’s half siblings! (2 single moms by choice and a lesbian couple who chose the same sperm donor). The kids are all so cute and look so alike, and we’ve been able to bond over their shared origins and what it’s like to balance work and parenting these tiny humans. It’s something unique to donor conceived families and so far I love it!

  6. Congratulations on the new job, KaeLyn! 💖

    Not a parent, but “try again” seems like something I could probably implement in my life as a kinder alternative to mentally beating myself up after every little fuck-up.

  7. When my kiddo was Remi’s age and would get frustrated with something, we would say very calmly, “You can try again the same way; you can try a different way; you can ask for help; you can take a break and come back later; or you can stop. Those are your choices.” Sometimes it worked wonders. Sometimes we went on her Awful Parents List. And in the latter case we’d back off, and usually in a few minutes she would have made her choice and life went on.

    Good luck with the new job and the adjustment period, KaeLyn. Remi will be fine and so will you!

  8. I really appreciate your honesty in this column. The idea that we can have it all is so unrealistic and I love people who are open about how difficult a balancing act it really is.

    Also congratulations on the job and good luck with it!

  9. I don’t have kids but KaeLyn I just want you to know that I appreciate your honesty so much. So often we feel the pressure to portray this image of having our shit together 24/7 and I love that you’re crushing some of those expectations.
    Recently I was on a business call with a working mum and she had to interrupt the call 3 or 4 times to go deal with her kid – it really showed me her human side and made me respect her 10x more. So just remember , people are admiring you, not judging you.

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