taking care of business

Writing about cancer and stuff.

I’ve been on a two-week stretch of writing about people with cancer. I know you want to keep reading this post now, right? It’s been breast cancer mostly, with ovarian cancer thrown in, liver cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

During those weeks I also, maybe coincidentally, was reading John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars, which is about kids who have cancer (lung cancer and osteosarcoma).

Aside from partially convincing myself I have a stomach tumor – which would explain my wider waistline, which in no way could be the baby weight I’m still carrying from my son who was born over a year ago – I’ve enjoyed the interviews and also been a little emotionally exhausted by them. Which feels ridiculous to even mention since anything I’m feeling is nothing compared to the exhaustion (emotional and otherwise) of someone who has cancer.

I’m also feeling my way through the best way to interview people who’ve gone through something so life-changing. You have to be sympathetic but still keep sight of the story you need to tell. I’m not an emotional person generally but I got choked up during an interview with an ovarian cancer survivor when she started talking about her mom, who had died of ovarian cancer when the woman was in her teens.

I haven’t done human interest reporting since college, but in some ways I feel more prepared now than I was then – and with a heart that breaks a little more easily. After going through the death of my son three years ago, I feel better equipped to talk to people weathering personal storms, even though there are as many kinds of grief as there are grievers.

Whew. Even so, lots of times lately I can’t help comparing myself to other journalists who are writing hard news, uncovering corruption, being political watchdogs, covering complicated issues. Their work is so important and, to me, intimidating. But then I can’t help but think: regular people going through extraordinary circumstances are important, too. We crave stories about people who are like us and facing something we pray we never have to – how do they do it? Maybe all journalism comes down to the same thing: that people matter.

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Personal

This week is over.

Lois Lane by Kate Beaton

I’m coming off a heck of a week. My husband was out of the continental U.S. on business all week, there were two after-hours work events for me to attend (on top of our family’s usual weekly activities) and I’m still trying to find my groove as a reporter.

As to the first – I don’t know how single moms do it. And after this week I’m fairly certain they couldn’t possibly know either. My not-quite-walking toddler and my not-quite-potty-trained preschooler who’s firmly entrenched in the fit-throwing depths of the Terrible 3s did a number on me. I almost wept with relief when Jeff came straight from  his 8-hour flight to help me with the boys during the first of two birthday parties we attended today. I’m fully aware that many people have more kids than me, less help than me and kids with more needs than mine but…I’m just worn out from herding two chimpansloths all week. I’ll have my priorities in order tomorrow.

And for the second – the after-hours work events. They were super fun, both Tuesday night and Thursday night. It was great to hang out with my coworkers – I love them – and show off our new digs. And yet … there was this mortifying moment Tuesday night that involved my unfortunate habit of using my hands when I talk, and holding a beverage, which may or may not have sloshed spectacularly on someone much higher up the org chart than I am. There’s nothing else I can say about that moment except that the person was supremely gracious. I wanted to lock myself in the vault.

And the third: The deadlines! The deadlines have changed! How did I not remember how much faster-paced reporting is than magazine work? I need to post more often and I need to write more quickly. Gotta stay on top of social media. And keep my eyes out for my next story ideas. I love everything about my job –  the stories I get to write and the people I meet and the ones I work with. It’s just been a steeper learning curve.

I may or may not have ordered a too-expensive (but gorgeous) pair of leather riding boots this week. I blame the stress. They’re supposed to arrive Monday so I’m looking forward to kicking butt and reporter-ing like a boss this week.

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taking care of business

Becoming a reporter the second time around.

katebeaton_loislaneSeptember means change. It marks the beginning of fall (to me, anyway – it’s football season!), my entire office moved to an awesome downtown building a couple of weeks ago; my 13-month-old started Mother’s Morning Out for the first time and my 3-year-old started preschool.

And earlier this week I started a brand new job.

Sort of. I’m still working at the same place, but my role has shifted completely: I’m a reporter again.

I’m sad my magazine was tabled indefinitely; it was work I loved. But I’m also – surprisingly, even to me – completely stoked about going back to full-time writing. I’ll be a features and human interest reporter, which is exactly what I want to write. Meeting interesting people and learning their stories and crafting them into compelling prose – I geek out on that stuff.

It’s just different now. I’ve spent the last several years editing and managing and directing other peoples’ writing. Getting back to generating multiple stories weekly for our online news site and the newspaper is challenging. I haven’t done it since college, which was a long eight years ago.

It helps to work with a killer set of coworkers who are generous with leads and lavish in their encouragement.

So now I’m on to a new chapter in my working life. I’ll try to be a bit jaded, like any good journalist, keep my eyes and ears open, and remember the most important advice I got (and had to memorize) from Prof. Williams’ JRNL 1100 class: “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise.” And make “every word tell.”

 

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family

For those of us not “opting out”

Every time I see another women vs. work vs. motherhood post, I get a little twitchy.

Too many people – men and women – who write about this  complicated and multi-layered topic wring their hands and turn condescending. Poor women. We can’t seem to get it together. Why can’t we have everything we want? Why do we have to make choices?

ICYMI, a recent story in the New York Times revisited women who “opted out” of the workforce 10 years ago to raise their children, and now want back in.

No one can have it all. Life is about making choices, and we make the best ones we can at any given time. I’m guilty of reading dozens of those “how working moms make life work” articles and blog posts. What I finally decided about choice-making is that nothing has to be permanent. You create a schedule that works for you right now. It’ll have to change at some point, and that’s OK. You’ll never arrive at one system that is perfect, makes your entire family happy 100 percent of the time, and never needs altering.

There are many, many layers to this topic: access to quality childcare, better maternity leave programs, family-friendly employers, practical gender equality in the workplace, unrealistic pressure on mothers to be super-moms, the lack of options across the board for low-income families.

I don’t have answers, and it would take a hundred blog posts to even scratch the surface. But I can share my story, and what I have found is there are two things that make a big difference to me and my family. They’ve made us happier, and make me feel more fulfilled as a mom and as a professional: an employer that offers a flexible work schedule and a husband who isn’t (like most of the husbands in the NY Times article) a self-entitled idiot.

We have two young boys, ages 1 and 3 – I’m deep in The Blur right now – and I work full time. My husband works full time. We are incredibly fortunate (believe me, I know) to live near family and have moms who come take care of our boys on alternating weekdays (for free).

Most women don’t have this kind of support. Most of my working mom friends sure don’t. While I love having family to care for my boys, and the opportunity to send them to a mother’s morning out program a few days a week, it all comes down to the same thing: I’m away from them a large chunk of the day.

I feel guilt over that, particularly since I choose to work (how many men say “I choose to work”?). And I choose to work because I know deep down that I probably would not enjoy being a stay-at-home mom, even though I love my boys fiercely. I’m happy having an outside-the-home job I love.

Since last October, my employer has allowed employees a flexible work schedule.  I can’t even adequately explain how life-changing this is. Previously, I worked a strict 8 a.m.-5 p.m. under a (childless) supervisor who was understanding during emergencies – my preemie son had to see a specialist what seemed like every week during his first year of life – but there was still that expectation that I needed to be there during the prescribed work hours.

When our company went to the flexible work schedule, it was like…angels singing, light coming down from heaven, the works. I am happier now, and I feel even more productive than I was before. I can drop off my sons at their MMO classes (which means I get to see their teachers on a regular basis, and actually know the names of the kids in their classes) before I go in to work. If I want to take Will to his mid-morning gymnastics class on Thursdays, I can – I just do some work in the evenings after the boys are in bed.

My husband’s job is also fairly flexible. We’ve got our schedule – for now – worked out to where the boys only spend about 4-6 hours every weekday without one of us. Would they be fine if they were in a quality daycare eight hours a day without seeing us? Of course.

But while we’ve cobbled together this schedule for their benefit, let’s face it – it’s also about me. I feel like a successful mom when I’m an active part of their lives. And how a person feels in her personal life bleeds into her professional life.

My family will (and should) always come first. But it’s also important to me that I am good at my job. When I’m at work now, I can concentrate fully on my work, without worrying or feeling guilty that I’m missing the Mommy Breakfast at my son’s school.

So that part is institutional. More employers need to join the 21st century (like mine has) and help their employees – the vast majority of whom are part of families – move toward greater work/life balance. In a recent Rex Huppke work advice column (which is here, but you need a digital subscription to the Chicago Tribune to read it) Huppke  noted:

Rather than be content to simply have a job in a bad economy, these young people (millennials) are demanding a sense of purpose in their work and the ability to strike a reasonable work-life balance.

I don’t know if, at 30, I qualify as a millennial but I absolutely agree with the sentiment. Huppke goes on to quote a couple of field experts, who say millennials look for jobs that offer “flexible schedules and work-from-home options that ensure a work/life balance” among other things. Yes and yes.

And one more telling quote from that article:

Jim John, chief operating officer at beyond.com, said it’s a mistake for companies to view millennials as disloyal. They take charge of their own careers – for their own good, the good of their families and, given the generation’s heightened social consciousness, the good of the world around them.

 

“This generation has a real objective or sense that ‘I have to manage my career,'” John said. “‘I have to take control of it and be responsible. Employers are pressed, and they hire and lay off indiscriminately. So I have to be responsible to me, and to my family.'”

Not everyone has the luxury of choosing a job with these kind of benefits – but they should.

The other thing that has made a difference for me is being married to someone who sees me as a an equal partner – not a nanny/chef/housekeeper. I’m not saying our 8-year marriage is perfect, or that we don’t argue about whose turn it is to load the dishwasher. We have our faults like everyone does. But our professional goals are on an equal level of importance, and we both want to do what’s best for our family. My husband didn’t “let” me choose to work. We make the best decisions we can together, and if one of us ever needed to stay home with the boys, that would be a joint decision, too. Marriage is a partnership and it is work.

The upside of all the hand-wringing and benevolent condescension is at least the problems are being talked about. Twitchy or not, I’ll probably keep reading those stories and writing a few of my own, in the hopes that a national dialogue accomplishes much by the time my kids are parents.

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family

I’m a preemie mom.

Graham 1

I was asked to write a column for AL.com about  my experience with infant loss and having a preemie in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

It’s a part of my life that changed me profoundly, and that I’ve written about before.

But I’m thankful to have the chance to share on a much larger platform this time, partly because writing – especially like this, especially for me – is cathartic, and partly because it lets me shed light on the upcoming Miracle Bash and Swim for Melissa events, the biggest fundraisers of the year for the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund – a cause close to my heart.

I’d go into more detail, but I think I did a better job in the column, which you can read here.

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Uncategorized

Welcome.

Anna Claire VollersI’m an old soul cheerfully employed in new media.

I’m passionate about community engagement and serious about good journalism.

I’m a magazine junkie, devoted to coffee and enthusiastic about shoes.

I live in the land of cotton fields and rocket scientists.

 

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