Moms Make it Work: Mary from Missouri

Today we have another one of my 'back in the day of wedding planning online in St. Louis' friends, Mary, posting for the Moms Make it Work series. I had Mary on my list of moms I wanted to convince to do this series even though she doesn't blog anymore---because she is a full time working mom (and I tried to keep it equal between WMs and SAHMs) and I miss hearing her updates on life! Her post did not disappoint and I loved reading her take on how to make it work. Enjoy!momsmakeitwork

Hello, everyone! It’s good to be back in the blogging world, if only for a day.  I used to blog over at Two Pitties and a Little Lady, but working full time pretty much put an end to that.  I am, however, trying to dip my toes back into the social media universe through Instagram.  I am still learning, but you can find me at twopitties_littlelady.  Thanks to Julia for inviting me to participate in this series and giving a platform to moms from all different backgrounds.  Julia and I met back in 2006 (2007?) on a local wedding board and have ‘stayed in touch’ through blogs and social media. 

What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And now where are you? What is your background situation?
Aside from the six years I spent attending college and working in Washington, D.C., I have lived in St. Louis my entire life.  I knew from an early age that I wanted to pursue a career in the life sciences.   I toiled away in graduate school for many years, encountering every problem imaginable.  While in graduate school, I met my now-husband, Jason.  He really served as my rock as I struggled to finish.  As it felt like my professional dreams were slipping away from me, I was becoming more and more fulfilled in my personal life.  Jason and I got married in 2007.  
Photo Credit: Robert George Photography
We became active in dog rescue work by volunteering with Stray Rescue of Saint Louis, a local group that takes stray dogs off the streets.  We adopted our first dog, Levi, a pit bull mix, in 2008.  

Levi brought joy to my life that I had not known since before my dad’s short, painful battle and subsequent death from lung cancer in 2007.  
My dad passed away less than two months later. Photo credit: Robert George Photography
It’s very cliché to say, but Levi did rescue me.  He became the center of our lives and after we purchased our dream house in 2010, we added to our family (which also includes two birds, Monty and Lola) with Neptune, an American bulldog mix adopted from the same rescue group.



It was also in 2010 that we decided we were ready to start a family.  Up until that point, we were never sure that we wanted to have kids at all.  But, with the end of grad school in sight and with my biological clock ticking (I’m 35 now), we decided to take the plunge and I got pregnant after 8 months of trying. Elsa was born in October 2011 and we were in love.  
Hours before my water broke on my due date.

It's a girl!  Surprise!

Photo Credit: Lynsey Tedesco Photography

Photo Credit: Lynsey Tedesco Photography
However, there was still that small matter of a dissertation to finish.  I had scrambled to finish all of my data collection before she was born, so that “just” left writing the thing.  And so I did.  At home. With a newborn.  I nearly lost my mind and there were many tears involved, but I defended in April 2012 when Elsa was only six months old and was hooded one month later.  


It was such an achievement after everything I had endured, but what next?

By the time I finished, I was so disillusioned with academia that I knew I never wanted to teach and be in that toxic environment again.  Jason had moved up the ladder at his job and was making good money.  I didn’t see us moving and really, what options were there for non-academic Ph.D.-level positions?   Was I going to be a stay-at-home mom with a doctorate?   Right around graduation time, one of my committee members emailed me to tell me about an opening in her department. The person who had the position was leaving and she asked if I would be interested in applying.  I really couldn’t believe my luck.  This was essentially a dream job that fell into my lap at exactly the right time.  I interviewed, was hired, and started July 2012 on Elsa’s nine-month birthday (and with me in need of a root touch-up...yikes!).  
Since I didn’t know what my future plans were, we never put Elsa on any daycare waiting lists, so I had to scramble to find childcare.  Luckily, I found a great center just a minute from work that had an opening (and is also, unfortunately, one of the most expensive centers in the city).  On my first day of work, I cried on her teacher’s shoulder as I dropped her off.  But she loves school and her friends and I know she is receiving excellent care, which enables me to completely focus on my job each day.

What are the best parts of your situation? What are the biggest challenges? 

Well, I guess the best part of my situation is that I love my job and work in a place I always dreamed of working.  There are still days when I practically pinch myself at my good fortune.  I love being mentally challenged every day and I enjoy interacting with people from all over the country and the world.  This is actually ironic because I was so miserable in grad school that I became somewhat of a recluse and wanted nothing more than to hide in my office or the lab.  I also have a great relationship with my boss and the other people in my small department.  I’m really lucky. 

There are a few challenges, though.  First, you have to work an entire year at this institution before getting any vacation.  A whole year!!!  That is a loooong time when you have a baby at home.  Fortunately, you do get a lot of the “extra” holidays like Presidents’ Day and if you work that day, you can take another day off anytime during the year.  I finally got my two weeks of vacation last July and took my first day off on my birthday in August-I got a massage, had a leisurely lunch with my husband (complete with booze!) and took a nap.  Perfection.

Another big challenge is that I travel a decent amount for work.  Last year I went on five trips and this year I will go on six. On the one hand, I consider travel a perk because last year alone, I traveled to Salt Lake City, Portland, and Seward, Alaska.  
Wild sea lions in Alaska
I get to do fun things and meet interesting people on these trips.  This year I will go to Disney twice and to Jekyll Island. Not too shabby.  But, being away from my family for extended amounts of time is really hard.  In September, I was gone for 9 days as I went from one conference in Alaska straight to Kansas City for another one.  Even the two- or three-night trips take a toll in some way.  This face is tough to leave.
These two, too.
And all of this leads right into what I consider the biggest challenge of our situation, which is Jason’s commute.  His job is great, but it is far away.  It can take him an hour or more to get home in the evening, which is a long commute for St. Louis.  Because of this, he can’t do drop-off and pick-up at daycare because she will be there over 10 hours.  So when I travel, either my mom or sister has to pick Elsa up or he has to miss the end of the day at work.  It also means that I never get a break from the daycare pick-up (I work 7:30-4:30) and dinner madness.  Which leads me to my next topic…

How do meals work in your family? Meal planning? How often do you grocery shop? Who does that task in the family?
Was she ever really this little?
Dinner is by far the most stressful time of the day for me.  It’s further complicated by the fact that as long as we have been married, Jason and I have prepared our own food since he eats meat and I don’t.  I meal plan on the weekend, one of us shops on Saturday, and I typically make my “one pot” meal on Sunday that I eat all week long. I usually offer Elsa whatever that is one night and then that leaves me with 4-5 more nights of figuring out what on earth I will make her.  Usually that is a rotation of standards: tortellini, oatmeal, lentil soup, eggs, chick pattie, or other main course with sides.
Up until a few months ago, she was really difficult when we first got home.   I nursed her after work until she was 22 months and she was still really clingy and whiny afterward, hanging on me while I tried to fix something as quickly as possible.  All this after a snack too!  Things are better now…except now she wants to stay outside and play or ride her tricycle and I just want to fix her food before she transforms into the starving rage-monster.

Hard to believe she can have a temper!
Jason does what he can.  He can’t control his commute and traffic.  He will sometimes make her bison burgers or chicken or some other meat I can’t prepare.  But right now, we don’t eat as a family and that makes me really sad.  She needs to eat really soon after we get home and I heat up whatever I’m having.  Jason doesn't eat until after she goes to bed and he walks the dogs.  It’s not ideal, but hopefully she will be able to eat later as she gets older.

How do you keep the house clean? Power cleaning after bedtime? Staying out of the house as much as possible? Cleaning while kids are awake? Purging stuff often?

We have someone clean our house every other week and it is the best money spent.  Period.  I would sacrifice a lot of things to be able to afford this luxury.  I just don’t want to spend the very little family time we have on the weekend cleaning.  I also constantly pick up when I am home to keep everything tidy.  Elsa has a playroom upstairs and that is the only room that I don’t pick up every day.  Then we just spot clean as needed in between cleanings (e.g., wipe kitchen counters every night) and we do our own sheet changes, sheet/towel laundry, and we clean the playroom and Elsa’s room.  We really explore on the weekends.  We live in the city and can walk to Tower Grove Park and the Botanical Garden.  So much to see and do in this city!
Santa brought her this trampoline for her playroom and it sure got a lot of use this winter.


Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?

I didn’t really know what to expect since I transitioned from grad school to working full-time after having a baby.  I think that no matter what your situation is, you just fall into a routine and that can be good and bad.  I like consistency and normalcy, but it also means you can fall into a rut.  Why go out on Saturday night when  you can wear your jammies, watch Netflix, and go to bed at 10:00?  That kind of rut.


Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

This is tough for me to answer.  I guess in a perfect world, there would just be more time to do it all.  I don’t necessarily want to cut my hours at work, but I wish I had more time with my family.  If only I didn’t have to sleep!  I know there is no way to do my job in a part-time situation, but if there was a magical genie granting wishes, I would ask him to make it so.  Even 35 hours/week would make such a huge difference.

Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years, or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?

No way!  I am exactly where I want to be.  I believe the work I do is important and that I have the opportunity to really make a difference in things that matter to me.  One thing I do worry about is what will happen when Elsa reaches school age.  My job is not flexible and I want to be able to attend her sports games, plays, or go get ice cream after school.  I am not sure if I will be able to leverage some kind of flexibility by then, but I just don’t see how it would work.  And that is something that I do think about quite a bit.

Tips on how you make this work for you?

There is no way this would work without my husband who is 100% involved.  When I started, he knew he would be staying home when Elsa was sick and when daycare was closed because I had so little time off.  Now if she is sick, we typically each work ½ day so that we can each have office time. I also am lucky enough to have my mom and sister in town who help out when I am traveling or Elsa is sick.  Because, if Elsa is puking and I am puking and Jason has meetings all day, we need help. 

There was a lot of puking in our house last winter.

Jason also does at least as much housework as I do.  I may do the majority of the laundry, but he deals with the yard.  Trade-offs like that.  And he never complains about my weekend naps because I need them.  Yes, if I had to distill all of my advice into one word, it would be naps!!!  Naps make everything better!

I think another key component of making it work is communication.  I can get irritated all day and night that Jason is not doing what I expect him to…but he can’t read my mind.  If you don’t communicate, resentment builds until there is an explosion. I’m not going to say that hasn’t happened with us because, well, life is crazy sometimes.  But, we do our best to communicate.

Jason and I also give each other time to exercise and that helps keep us sane.  Jason rides his bike on weekends and has started running on his lunch hour.  I also run on my lunch hour and on weekends and I also splurged on a pilates reformer in November.  My dissertation writin’ room of horrors has turned into my happy place where I go several nights/week after Elsa goes to bed.

And here is my practical tip: if your washing machine has a timer, use it!  Throw clothes in there in the morning and they will be ready by the time you get home, freeing up that washer for yet another load.  This was key for me since we cloth diapered up until last month when nonstop leaky diapers got the best of us.

How do you handle mommy guilt that comes with each role?

I wouldn’t say I am free of mommy guilt, but I do pretty well.  It’s everybody else I am neglecting that I feel guilty about.  My birds don’t get enough attention, my dogs don’t get enough attention, and my husband sure as hell doesn’t get enough attention. The fact that there is only so much time outside of work and I devote so much of it to Elsa is what I feel guilty about.  I need to take more date nights with my husband.  I need to take my dogs on more special walks.  And I need to spend more time snuggling with my birds, especially since Monty has terminal cancer and probably won’t be around much longer.  Lots of guilt there.  And don’t ask how often I see friends or even family.  So, while I feel good about life/work balance when it comes to Elsa for the most part, I am not exactly excelling at nurturing other important relationships.

And since we’re talking guilt, here’s my big guilty confession: I was devastated when Elsa turned one because I love babies.  I love everything about babies and she wasn’t a baby anymore.  I found age 14-25 months to be really challenging and I didn’t love them.  When people said, “doesn’t it just keep getting better?” I thought, no, it doesn’t.  I want my baby back.  
Photo credit: Lynsey Tedesco Photography

Photo credit: Lynsey Tedesco Photography
I don’t like this new territory.  Why am I the only person who thinks this?  And that made me feel guilty because I was sad that the best time was behind us and would I ever enjoy her as much as I did when she was a baby? Luckily, after we had the trip from hell to Chicago last November, she turned a real corner and I can honestly say that I love her at age 2.  She is hilarious and independent and sweet as can be.  I mean, she’s two, and that means tantrums and strong-willed defiance and challenging us. But, she is a little person who is sensitive and caring with a  real personality and I love watching it develop.


Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying home is the right choice?
For moms struggling with returning to work-I think the anticipation is so much worse than the reality.  That day your baby starts daycare or your nanny shows up for the first time will be heart-wrenching.  But, you will fall into a routine and everything will become second nature.  When I started my job, I made a list of things I needed to bring with me, things like breast pump, my lunch, and Elsa.  I was worried I would forget my child!  Now I literally wake her up 20 minutes before I leave for work-that’s how routine our mornings have gotten.  And she has a snack before school.
Thanks again, Julia, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this enlightening series and for reminding me how much "fun" it is to get blogger to talk to Flickr:)

(Thanks, Mary! Find the rest of the MMIW series here)


  1. Love her name - beautiful long before Frozen came along. ;)

    Good for you for admitting that those months in between were hard for you. I love babies and I also love the little kid stage, but I do remember that second year of my first child's life being hard for me mentally, like what a wake-up call to no longer have a baby and have this little person running around who needs discipline and structure and so much more than just boobs and cuddles and sleep! It does get better in many ways, but it gets harder, too.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. I love reading these series. I am so glad I came across it. As a teacher, I kind of get the best of both worlds because of all the holidays and the summer break I get. However, I always say it is a big adjustment the first week or two of summer break as we get used to being around each other so much, and then another adjustment getting back into the routine of going to the sitter/work. My oldest son NEEDS his schedule, so when it is thrown off, he is thrown off and it adds stresses to the everyday. I can't wait to read more of these working mom stories. It feels validating to know that there are other moms out there grinding away each day working and being a mom.

  3. Mary I am SO excited to read this update! I used to read your blog and sometimes checked back for an update on you and your family (including those beautiful pitties!!!). I discovered your blog after I'd lost my own dad to cancer, gotten married, and had become really involved in rescue. So needless to say, you had a captive reader! So lovely to see handsome Levi and Neptune again.

  4. Love this and so glad to hear from Mary again! I can't believe how big Elsa has gotten since she stopped blogging (I miss your blog, Mary). We struggle with dinner too. A lot. It's a very stressful time at our house too. We've gotten better at eating together, but only because we make it a priority and sacrifice fancy meals sometimes for quick and easy ones. It takes a lot of planning and usually a tantrum or two, but we're getting there (it took us 2 years). I don't know what we'll do when we add another to the mix!

  5. "Levi brought joy to my life that I had not known since before my dad’s short, painful battle and subsequent death from lung cancer in 2007." - SAME EXACT EXPERIENCE HERE... My sweet rescue Basenji, Kizi, has brought joy to me that I hadn't experienced in 2 years since my Dad died.... Sometimes I wonder - If I am this in love with my dog - and I wonder how I will be with my future kids!

    Just had to comment about that because my experience was so similar! Julia, thank you for doing this series!!! At this point, I think I want to continue working FT and Mary gives me hope - she wakes Elsa up 20 minutes before they leave?!?! That is awesome!!! I think I could 'make that work' :).


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