What it’s like to shelter in place away from home

Last October, we moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Seattle. My company acquired a business and I was offered the opportunity to lead the Seattle office. We packed up two kids, basic necessities, one car, and moved across the country with just a few weeks notice. Six months later, Washington state became a COVID-19 hotspot. We’ve been working from home since March 3 and under a stay at home order since March 23.

Only, we’re not actually home. Home to us means North Carolina. We barely had time establish ourselves in Seattle when the pandemic hit.

My husband, two sons and I are sheltered in a rental home. Our family and friends are 2,000 miles away. We still own our Charlotte home, so most of our belongings are there too. We don’t even have a Chick-fil-a nearby. Talk about roughing it.

Sheltering in a place away from our true home has been equal parts terrible and wonderful.

In the beginning, we thought this was temporary. I quickly transitioned my office to work from home. I figured it would last a week or two. We pulled the kids out of daycare to be extra cautious. It felt like a spring break. It was actually nice to get out of the rat race for a while. We took walks in the mornings, the kids colored while I took conference calls. I had time to cook meals again. I bought a Peloton (I exercise now – shocker).

But, then it never ended. Days turned into weeks, then months. The feeling of vacation turned into a feeling of desperation. During a time where my company needed my best, so did my kids. Work and life were happening at the same time. Balance disappeared. My husband and I split shifts just to get anything done. I attempted to play school teacher. I tried to keep my almost kindergartener on track with reading and writing. I created sorting activities for our two year old. Despite my best efforts, succeeding at work and home became impossible. At the lowest point, I put the kids in time out so I could take a call. There were tears, arguments, resentment and a feeling of intense guilt for putting my family in this situation. I moved us out here for MY opportunity, but it became hell for ALL of us.

We considered packing up and heading home. If it wasn’t for air travel, we would have. Out of desperation, I turned to my leaders for support and presented them with two options: we get the hell out of here, or find childcare. I can’t tell you the feeling of relief when they said: “Do what is best for your family. We support you.”

We changed our childcare arrangement and got outside help. So far, it’s working.

But for all of the terrible moments, there have been wonderful moments too. While we’ve craved the comfort of home, we’ve filled the void with adventure. When we do leave the house, it’s to explore something we’ve never seen before (safely). It’s sad that it takes a pandemic to realize all the wonderful things you would never experience if you never slowed down…

Like a hidden beach with the perfect view of Mt. Ranier.

Cherry blossom lined streets in Magnolia.

Or, the park across the street overlooking the Puget Sound.

Acres of tulip fields in Skagit Valley.

Snow at Snoqualmie Pass.

For every moment I’ve wished we were home, there have been others filled with joy watching my children experience a new world.

Yes, we would have had help in Charlotte. Grandmas, grandpas, uncles and aunts – all could have given us temporary relief. We would have had a backyard, instead of our city strip of grass. We would have had our doctors if anything went wrong. We would have had more space, more comforts of home and frankly more sanity. Also Chick-fil-a.

But we wouldn’t have had adventure. We wouldn’t have had the bond that comes from going through something really, really hard with just your family. We wouldn’t have seen the Pacific Northwest. We wouldn’t have made wonderful memories that we’ll take with us forever.

I won’t go so far as to say “I wouldn’t change a thing.” If you would have told me our move to Seattle would include a pandemic quarantine, I DEFINITELY would have changed my mind. But, I’m glad we are here.

I’ll never forget our “stay at home” time, and how it has forever changed our definition of what home is really about.

How I’m managing working mom guilt lately

Work trip to our new Seattle office. Happy hour with a view!

[Spoiler alert: Not well]

In the last two weeks I’ve traveled to Indianapolis for fun, Seattle and New York City for work. Without children.

I have something honest to say: Sometimes, work travel is glorious. A productive day of off-site meetings pairs nicely with dinner and drinks. Especially when your dinner party knows how to use silverware. A solo hotel stay can be luxurious, too. No midnight wake-up call from my teething toddler? Trashy reality TV instead of Peppa Pig? Bliss.

But if I’m really being honest, work travel isn’t always easy on mom (or dad). A few weeks of travel has me feeling tired, disconnected and guilty. I’m lucky to have a job where travel is occasional, not regular, but any amount of travel is challenging for families.

Arranging schedules is the easy part. It’s hard to give my husband detailed instructions, though, about the tasks I take care of without even thinking – like checking the school calendar to see if it’s Show and Tell day.

Finding time to connect across time zones is difficult, too. When you add up full-day meetings, dinners, cab rides, security lines and flights – you’re lucky to get in a few minutes of phone time each day.

Then, there was the video my husband sent . He’s playing a marble game with our four-year-old son. “If we have seven balls and we take away four balls, how many balls do we have?” Without missing a beat my son says, “Three!”

And just like that, I missed his first math problem. Pictures and videos are lousy substitutes for milestone moments.

That’s the reality of what it means to be a working mom, though. Chasing your career dreams and your toddlers is hard to do at the same time. You won’t just miss some moments, you will miss many moments. Guilt is inevitable.

When I have weeks like this, I try to remember the advice a mentor (and fellow working mom) once gave me. “You can’t measure work life balance by the day. You’ll always lose. Measure it by the month, instead. You’ll have long days, nights away – but you can make up for that with good, quality time when you’re home.” This has become my working mom mantra.

We filled our cups with good, quality time the last few weekends. Water play, mountain trips, pool dips, birthday parties, lightning bug chasing. Those are the moments they will remember most, I hope.

Here’s to all the ladybosses out there having busy, travel weeks. Enjoy your travels. Don’t sweat the little moments. Make time for the big ones.

You’re doing great, mama.

Presentation Tips: How to nail a public speaking gig

Presenting at Red Ventures Half Time event, May 2019
Photo Credit: Red Ventures Corporate Communications

“I’m going to pass out. Or vomit. Or both.”

Ten years into my career, and this is still exactly what I’m thinking as I begin a presentation. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been at the front of the board room or center stage at a companywide event; I still get nervous.

I had two presentations just this week. The first, to a room of about 50 colleagues. The second? A companywide event with 1,500 people in the crowd and streaming online.

If the thought of presenting has your heart rate racing – take a deep breath (or pour a glass of rose). Read my tried and true presentation tips and get ready to make your ladyboss debut.

Start with the punch line.

Girl, back away from the PowerPoint. Before you create the first slide, know your story. Ask yourself, “What do I want people to know at the end of my presentation?” and “What do I want them to do?” Start with the questions and let your presentation build the answer.

Here’s an example from a recent presentation I gave:

What do I want people to know? Content is critical to grow our business. Our team is small, lacks experts and needs freelance support.

What do I want them to do? Approve a new organizational structure.

Be brief in setting context.

Unless you are 100% sure that you are speaking to a novice audience – keep your set up brief. I try to stick to a one slide introduction or a 30-second summary. Why? I’d rather skimp on the basics to get to the hard-hitting topics – especially if I anticipate debate or questions.

Have a lot of material to share? Send a pre-read ahead of time with a few slides of background information.

Know your shit.

A presentation is a great way to find out who is on their A-game and who is not. Ladybosses of the world: Know. your. shit. Validate data. Verify facts. Make a list. Check it twice! Keep a cheat sheet of data and talking points handy just in case.

Be yourself (yes, really).

It’s cheesy, whatevs. But, I’m a big fan of the “bring your whole self to work” mentality. Be yourself – even on presentation day – even if you’re kind of weird. For me, that means opening each presentation with a joke because 1. Laughter eases my anxiety 2. Work should be fun. For you, being yourself may mean something different. Remember, you were chosen to present because you’re you. So make sure you are leading the discussion and not a corporate fembot.

Practice out loud.

This seems obvious, but I’m always surprised by how many colleagues say they don’t practice before a presentation (and it shows). I practice a presentation a minimum of ten times, every time. My practice tips? First, time yourself. Make sure you can stay at least one to two minutes under time to allow for questions. Practice with slides AND practice without slides – tech fails but you don’t have to.

Don’t just practice talking points, though. Prepare for questions. Write a list of 5-10 questions that may come up and prep answers. You’ll be glad you did.

Read the room.

We’ve all seen it before. Time is running out and the presenter knows it. But, instead of hitting the high notes she plunders on through her 50 slide deck determined to make every. damn. point.

Read the room – and the clock. A presentation is intended to spark discussion. If discussion happens, pivot. Sacrifice your remaining points for group participation.

Wear lipstick, expensive shoes, or both.

Lastly, fly your lady flag high. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. But on presentation days, I bust out the feminine artillery. Wear lipstick, high heels, a great blazer – or all three. Whatever makes you feel confident. When you look good, you feel confident.