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Cutting Teeth

March 12, 2013

Backstage while covering Bonnaroo for MSN.

I try to be as honest as possible in this space, while remaining optimistic. There’s enough gloom in the world without another blogger being all woe-is-me about life. I mean, I’m still reeling from this 60 Minutes segment on Clay Hunt a couple Sundays ago. Talk about a tearjerker. I’m not Woody Allen in my everyday life—I tend to be a pretty glass half-full, let’s make lemonade, kind of girl. Each and every one of us has our own story with some chapters having more ups than downs, and those are the ones you want to reread.

But, here it is…This. Is. Hard. This being the adjustment I’m currently experiencing as a working parent. Make no mistake, Margaret was very wanted, and we went to great lengths to have her, so this isn’t about my love for my daughter, or how much my life has changed since she arrived. I love her more than words could ever fully do the topic justice. Most of the time is, in fact, playing and taking adorable Instagram photos, reading, and walks in the park. Don’t get me wrong, it is work, raising our daughter. But, here’s where it gets very tricky—it’s not the same as the work I’ve been doing since I was a kid. This is a very different kind of thing altogether. I’ve always had a job. Whether it was helping my parents work on the building that would eventually become our home, to later helping them in their property management company, or lifeguarding; I’ve held a steady job since I was 15.

The topic of work/life balance is timeless and several women are making the subject a full-on debate, like Sheryl Sandberg with her Lean In approach, or Marissa Mayer and Anne-Marie Slaugher’s black and white takes. For me, it’s not as much about the balance (I feel like I’m doing a fairly decent job at being a writer while simultaneously mothering Margaret) as much as what’s next? Where do I go from here?

I launched danapop in 2008, and in addition to this site, I’ve spent the past five years building a writing career of freelance jobs with everything from crafting magazine features to serving corporate clients to ghostwriting book chapters. I spent years fostering relationships with editors at national magazines, putting me on the map as an Atlanta-based freelancer. I felt like I’d done a great job setting my career on a path that would be (dare I say it?) easy once a baby came along.

Cooking class while on a press trip to Savannah.

Cooking class on a press trip to Savannah.

Back when Margaret was in my belly (as she is in both of these photos), I was at the top of my game, I knew it, and was so very grateful for it. I had a steady, long-term contract position with MSN as their Atlanta contributor for a really great portal called Postbox. Hands down, the best group of folks I’ve ever worked with, and the job itself challenged me as a writer, making it one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Then, MSN decided to give Postbox an Internet burial in September 2012. I took the lack of a contract as a sign to slow down and focus on getting ready for my next role—mother. There was a lot to do, but it was much different than my writing deadlines, which I was much more comfortable with. Between home renovations, prenatal appointments, shopping for baby items, and wrapping up several writing projects, I was plenty busy.

I didn’t really think about it then, but I’ve always had the next job lined up. Before MSN, I was the Atlanta editor of the über-popular, DailyCandy. I seamlessly transition from one position to another, but for the first time in five years, I don’t have a steady writing position that provides me enough of a stipend to help contribute to us financially. When I left CNN back in 2005 I was a bit lost as to what the next step in my career would be, and I slowly started to figure it all out. The difference then was that I knew I wanted to write, and I didn’t care where. Now, none of it makes much sense. Do I want to work full-time? (How could I possibly leave her?!) Do I want to continue to freelance? (It’s incredibly hard to stay in the loop between baby demands, but not impossible.) Do I want to continue working from home? (I cannot imagine going to an office 9-5, but the compartmentalization might help.) I’m not sure what I want anymore, and that’s scary to me, this unknown space.

For now, I’m trying to just be. If nothing else in her short life, Margaret has taught me to step back and understand that not all things require our time immediately. What I mean is she requires that, but nothing else really does. I love my baby, dearly. I love being her mother. It’s just I don’t recognize anything familiar in this role. So, writing for me is as much familiarity as it is my calling in life—because I happen to love what I do.

I feel like I’m growing along with Margaret, as she hit four months last week; the milestone is supposed to be cutting teeth. She’ll be gaining a bit of independence with those teeth, with her diet changing soon and developing tastes that are no longer provided only through what I’m eating. That means she’s fussy and a drooling machine, neither of which are quite as cute as those little rabbit teeth she’ll soon get. So, perhaps we’re all in this infancy thing together. I’m trying to figure out what’s next in my career, while she’s developing and reaching milestones on her own. I suppose I’m cutting my own teeth, making me fussy, temperamental, and trying to figure it all out right alongside her.