Life, hey? So much has happened in such a small space of time. A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewing. This week? I’m working.
Yep, you read correctly. I got the job! I’ve just joined one of Silicon Valley’s largest tech firms and I’m practically scaling the walls with glee!
Of course, acceptance of such an exciting offer isn’t without its challenges. Especially here in the good ol’ US of A.
Hurdle 1: getting legal permission to work.
Okay, so getting the go-ahead to work here is not entirely easy. I mean, we totally knew that. We were aware it’d take some time. And we also guessed it’d involve a fair bit of paperwork and a touch of government bureaucracy.
I mean, this process has been intense. Given, for instance, that the US (bizarrely) won’t issue work permits to unmarried partners, it was during preparation for the move that it became apparent to us that we’d probably need to get married. Gulp. To be honest, tying the knot was never a high priority for Cam and me. We already felt committed to each other, and the idea of a big, white wedding freaked out the both of us. In the end, though, we realised it’d be a good thing for me to have the option to work. When and if I wanted, so it went.
So, back in September, we hastily – albeit willingly – arranged a wedding in beautiful Melbourne. I have to admit that Cam and I truly had one of the most incredible days of our relationship. It was an intimate little affair shared with immediate friends and family at our favourite wine bar. I remember thinking what a treat it was to have our girls involved as well. I mean, what can we say… our expectations of a stuffy, traditional wedding really were surpassed!
But after that, you know… it was back to business.
We expedited our marriage papers and got everything in order for the move. Did you know, however, that it’s not possible to apply for permission to work, as a spouse, until you’re actually in the United States? So, in true Clare style, I had my application ready to go as soon as we arrived. Bam! I got straight to work (so to speak) and posted it in our first week here. It was received by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on 22 November and the quoted processing time was 90 days. Okay, so that takes us to the end of February. Not bad, I decided. But then, of course, the government went into shutdown in January.
As you do. *Eye roll*
It didn’t get any better. By April, my EAD (Employment Authorisation Document) still hadn’t arrived. When I finally received my job offer via email, the internal recruiter asked me, very reasonably, if I was authorised to work in the United States.
Shit. Ummmm. What do I say?
What did I say?
Well, technically, no. I applied for my EAD five months ago. They quoted a 90 day processing period so it should be done really soon. I don’t know exactly when, though. So, no. I’m not technically authorised to work here.
The recruiter’s response? Silence. Dead silence.
And that silence went on for days. Literally. Maybe even a week. I was so stressed that this job offer, for a job I really wanted, was going to fall flat on its face (taking me along with it) and all because of petty government bureaucracy, something completely outside of my control. I tried calling USCIS and pleading my case. Nothing worked.
But then, a few days and many grey hairs later, I received via post an update that my EAD had finally been signed off.
Halle-bloody-lujah. I notified the recruiter and we were back on track. We set a start date in less than two weeks’ time.
Hurdle 2: what’ll we do about childcare?
Unlike Australia, there’s no government rebate for childcare here. And it costs a heap more. Like, USD$2500 per month more. And that’s per child!
Our minds went into overdrive. I mean, I know we’d reached a point at which, for sanity’s sake, I needed to be working, but taking the sheer cost of childcare into account, what would the actual point of working be, at least from a financial perspective?
Point-less, is what it’d be. I thought hard.
How about a nanny? And how do we find a good one? Quick smart?
We posted an ad on care.com and immediately began interviewing. Thankfully, despite meeting some kooky candidates (I mean, sadly you’ve gotta expect that, I guess), we really did meet someone wonderful. She was available to start straight away and could do the hours we needed. And, most importantly, it quickly became apparent that the girls loved her.
Sure, we’ve realised that a nanny will cost us almost as much as our rent, but we know the girls will be in great hands and will spend their days with someone who’ll have fun, play games, read books, and go on outings with them. Frankly, I think they’ll have more fun with this wonderful person than they will have with me!
It seems a good problem to have.
Hurdle 3: transport.
The new company I’ve joined isn’t exactly local. It’s perhaps 25 miles from home (OMG… I’m now talking in miles… who would’ve thought!). And while the Bay Area is well serviced by fancy little shuttle buses (all care of the big firms), none of them actually go through Palo Alto.
(By the way: we’re totally spoiled by PT (public transport) in Australia. PT in the Bay Area is pretty much non-existent. Nope… no trams straight to Flinders Street Station from here, that’s for sure.)
I gave it some thought.
I mean, I guess I could drive. But we only have one car. And I really need to leave it for our awesome new nanny and the girls.
No way. $50 a day would be totally outrageous. Ah well… let’s look into leasing a small, electric car, perhaps (yes, Australians: you can actually do this in the US) but because I have no credit history in the US and haven’t actually commenced work yet, I quickly found out there’d be absolutely no way this would be organised by the time I start work.
The only option left?
Rent a car. A normal car.
Cool, I thought. I’ll get the cheapest car possible and use that until I settle. Right, book a car online, and go pick it up. Simple.
Nup. You need a domestic credit card to rent a car here. And, of course, we can’t get a credit card because we don’t have the credit history (yes, this is annoyingly circular).
So, this (again) is where my friends came to the rescue. I was bemoaning these class-one dramas to the friend who facilitated the introduction to my new employer, and much to my surprise, she VERY KINDLY offered to book a rental car for me; in her name, and with her credit card.
I couldn’t possibly accept this gesture. She insisted. And so, she picked me up and whisked me off to Avis. When the sleazy guy at the counter mentioned he’d upgrade me, I declined his offer to look at the car, instead insisting I’d be fine with anything. I’d had a gut-full, to be honest; both of his sleaze, and of the entire situation.
I left the office and found my car in the parking lot (there I go again with the Americanisms). And this, my friends, is what I was met with:
F*ck. A Ford Mustang GT.
Although I did go through an intriguing stage in my early 20s where I built, restored, and dragged (at Calder Park Raceway) early model Mazda rotaries (quiet… I can hear you gasping from here!), a loud, obnoxious sports car is something I’ve never owned, let alone something I’ve ever wondered about owning. All I could think now was OMG… I have to drive to my new job in this?
Luckily, both my friend and Cam helped me to see the hilarious side of it all. I mean, it’s another story I can tell when I get old and grey, right? That one time I lived the Silicon Valley dream with my husband and three daughters, working at one of the biggest tech firms in the world, driving the most ridiculous, non-Clare car possible.
I mean, at least it’s a story. I can smile about that.
Maybe I’ll even come to enjoy the bloody car.
So, I’m starting to feel like the practical stuff is under control.
…but what about the emotional stuff?
Didn’t think you could get away that easily, did you, feelings?!
I haven’t worked full-time since before Clara was born. That’s just shy of 4.5 years. I really did value the flexibility of a part-time work schedule in Australia; of matching the fulfilment associated with going to work with the ability to be home with my girls.
As the last remaining days as a stay-at-home Mum loomed, I found myself getting incredibly emotional. Everyone had told me that children grow up too quickly. I was suddenly living that reality.
Am I doing the right thing? What if I end up working ridiculously long hours?
Instead, I found myself being more present. There were more cuddles. More games. And then, faster than I ever imagined, came Monday morning… my first day of work. I left. No one cried (myself included). And I’m now one week in.
Here I am looking all dorky and excited, ready for day one:
Surprisingly, I’m doing okay.
As it would turn out, so are the girls. Our nanny sends us photos and video clips during the day, which I love receiving. She’s got great communication skills and always asks if she’s unsure of anything. Best of all, she’s upbeat, responsive and quick to reply when we check in with her.
Efficient Clare seriously loves this, I tell ya.
Here are some pics taken by (and of!) our fabulous new nanny:
And yet, there are still some times during day that are tinged with sadness. I have, for example, found that I tend to feel most upset by the little things. Like the fact that I I’m not the person preparing the girls’ lunch and dinner. I’m sad to miss Clara’s pre-school drop-offs and pick-ups, saying my usual, big hellos to the other parents, kids and teachers. I also have massive FOMO when my non-working friends get together during weekdays.
Seriously, who have I become?
I also feel guilty that I’m not the person with which my kids will spend most of their time.
Will this impact my relationship with them? Am I harming them from a developmental perspective?
Obviously my rational brain knows the answer to these questions is no. I have all the evidence in front of me as well: Cam’s days at work have done zero harm at all to his bond with the girls. The constant striving to dispel what society thinks is the right way to bring up my children is an incredibly tiring pursuit indeed.
The reality, though, is this: my family is fully aware that motherhood, in its fullest and most visceral form, took away a lot of my sanity and personal space. What I now know is that regaining this part of my identity will absolutely make me a better mother. I’ll listen more often. I’ll be more present when I’m around. I might even begin to enjoy the moments that used to irritate to me (gluestick in my hair, for example).
It’s early days, but I’m feeling positive. Positive that I’ll find the right balance. Positive that my kids will blossom.
And, perhaps most importantly, that I’ll blossom too.