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Amberly McAteer is a former editor for The Globe’s Opinion section.
Every work day at 10:30 a.m. for the last six years, I’ve been part of a story meeting with a team of brilliant editors, debating which news items would make the strongest fodder for engaging opinion pieces.
Our team comes away from these meetings energized, with a long lists of tasks: assign a quick op-ed on last night’s breaking political news, lock down that author for the thoughtful weekend cover essay, edit a million daily pieces, proof the section and get the Opinion page to press before deadline.
This past Monday morning was a bit different. My big, invigorating feat? I finally made the perfect spinach pancake.
My 18-month-old daughter, Lucy, clapped from her high chair as mama declared victory. The edges were brown but not burned, the rise was just right. They were fluffy, not chewy, and the edible alien-green pucks meant Lucy would eat at least one vegetable that day.
Weeks earlier, I had called my boss and made it official: When my maternity leave was over, I wouldn’t be returning to my job as an editor at The Globe. It was a title I cherished, and one I really enjoyed sharing with people when they asked me what I did for a living. I quit, and have veered away from an exciting, rewarding and challenging 12-year career in journalism at the country’s most-read newspaper … to be a stay-at-home mom.
This was never the plan.
This summer, as my return to work date started to come into focus and Lucy’s full-time daycare spot was confirmed, I started to question everything. My husband travels a lot and works extremely long hours. He was rarely, if ever, going to be able to do a daycare drop-off or pick up. I did the work-to-kid ratio calculation: I’d likely spend eight to nine hours in the newsroom, and another 1-2 hours commuting on mandatory in-office days.
So if I was lucky, Lucy and I would spend two hours together every weekday – a quick breakfast, a late dinner and a rushed bedtime. I don’t take for granted my privilege, to be in a position where my husband and I are able to weigh these sorts of decisions; a lot of parents don’t have a choice and do what they have to do.
One August morning, Lucy and I went for a picnic by Lake Ontario – a regular kill-time-before-nap outing. After she demolished an avocado, she grabbed my face with both hands, her little sausage fingers covered in green mush. She leaned in, and clumsily kissed her mom for the first time.
It sounds trite, but that was a clarifying moment in my life. If I was at work, how many heart-bursting avocado-kiss moments would I miss? What did a life with both parents working intense, demanding jobs look like in the eyes of a toddler?
My pivot to full-time momhood wasn’t part of the pandemic’s “‘Great Resignation” (which evidently isn’t even happening in Canada). While the shuttering of society certainly shook my world last spring as I was about to give birth, the kind of life-reassessing I’m doing now was happening for moms before COVID-19 made resigning a trend. (According to a 2021 study, 40 per cent of Canadian moms considered quitting their job when their maternity leave ended.)
The truth is that attempting to balance career goals and precious time with our kids is a juggling act that moms have had to do for ages. My neighbourhood mom group chat is filled with questions about priorities and struggles with careers now that kids are in the picture.
“Do you guys think I can work full time remotely and look after my toddler by myself?”
“My freelancing husband wants to work more but I need the free help with our son and running my business …”
“Should I take this better paying, more demanding job right now? We’re trying for a second …”
My own future became even more apparent recently: the pregnancy stick showed two lines, in the most surprising plot twist of my life. And that settled it – professional mom is my new full-time title, where sick days and vacation requests are scoffed at. (Though I’ll attempt to freelance write and edit in my limited spare time, if such a thing exists.)
The days are long but the years are short, as every parenting message board will tell you. If new motherhood has taught me anything, it is that time with our young kids is the most precious and fleeting thing we have. (My husband and I are constantly swearing that Lucy was just born – how can she be going down that slide on her own? How is she peeling that banana by herself? Who is this fully functional person?)
I really liked telling people I worked at The Globe. But I like telling people, “you’ll never guess what Lucy did today,” more.
What else we’re thinking about:
As my Christmas-obsessed husband reminds me daily, Dec. 25 is only six weeks away. This year, Lucy’s first Christmas where she may have a half-clue what’s going on, I’ve been focusing on ways to make it less wasteful and more meaningful – and start new, planet-saving festive traditions. Our family is vegetarian, but for big holiday dinners, we have served meat to our carnivore relatives; this year we’ll serve a delicious plant-based feast, and we’ll be skipping dairy altogether – this horrific news from B.C. was all the push I needed.
I loved what Philip Lymbery had to say in The Scotsman about new Christmas feast traditions, and how this holiday season, we should focus on the fact that “the way we treat animals has a big bearing on how well we protect people.”
After reading that wrapping paper and gift bags are responsible for 540,000 tonnes of waste every year in Canada, I’ve vowed to never buy them again. Lucy will know a tradition of tearing into gifts wrapped with newspapers (of course, never The Globe’s Opinion section).
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