Sunday, May 06, 2007

What would you do?

Well, here it is. The long-ago promised navel-gazing post where I wax on about my choices for next year. Ready? Hold on tight.

I want to continue to be home with the kids. I'll say that right out of the gate. It would be an easy decision but for one thing: my French language training.

For you non-Canadian federal government employees out there, let me give you the low-down. Most jobs in the Canadian federal government are classified as bilingual imperative. This means that when you're hired you are expected to be able to read, write and speak a certain level of the other official language (specified in the job ad as level A, B, C or a mixture thereof). Okay, if you REALLY know nothing about Canada: that would be French and English. For example, a job like mine is rated CCC English/French. This means you need to read, write, and speak both French and English at a very high level. The only level higher is E for exempt, which most native English and French speakers would be given for their mother tongue. First paragraph and I'm already going into WAY too much detail.

There are a few jobs in the federal government that have another, highly sought after classification: bilingual non-imperative. Bilingual non-imperative is the holy grail of federal government job classification and becoming very scarce, I might add. Bilingual non-imperative means that you can be hired even if you are unilingual and the government will pay you your regular salary while they train you to become bilingual to whatever the level is for your job.

My director went to the wall for me to get my position re-classified (lots of Canadian federal government lingo being thrown around here - sorry about that. However, being that I work for the Department of Foreign Affairs, where creating symbols and acronyms is actually a hobby, even a career in itself - I'm not kidding - I'm being rather reserved.) to bilingual non-imperative. It is nearly impossible, in the current political climate in Ottawa (Stephen Harper and his brutal excuse for a government), to find an advertised non-imperative position.

Okay, so you now have the background of my dilemma. I've done all the required testing so that those who need to know now know my current levels for French (sad state, I'm afraid) and how long it will take for me to get my C levels (39 weeks, full-time language school). My director, Gisele, was supposed to find out during this year (while I'm on maternity leave) when I would start my French. (Typically, there is a big waiting list.) The idea was that I would come right off leave and into French training.

About two weeks ago, I inquired for the umpteenth time with her to see if she'd heard anything. Without going into great minutiae, she hadn't heard anything but she had a name. I left a voicemail. Nuttin'. I sent an email, copying relevant others and finally got a response. Yadda, yadda, yadda, after providing a bunch of information that my director could have provided herself, it looks like I can probably get into my French training in November sometime, which is what I wanted.

Or so I thought.

When I got this news this past week, my first response was a sigh of relief. I'd been hoping for this for a long time. But as the day went on, I felt more and more anxiety about it and the reason is, I want to be with Emily and Hope. Period.

But... Again, the buts. To pass up this training is tantamount to stupid in a lot of circles. If I don't take it now, well, that ship has sailed, my friends. I have great daycare lined up for both kids - Emily at a wonderful French preschool where she'll re-master the language, and Hope at a French home daycare with a friend of mine who I know is excellent. We'd all be learning French together. But, they won't be with me, and as egotistic as it sounds, nothing will ever be as good as being at home with me. In my oh-so-humble opinion.

Last year, when Emily was in daycare and I was back to work, was one of the hardest years I've had. I was badly pulled between two things I really loved - my family and my job. Okay, so yes, of course I love my family more but most days, I also really liked my job. I never felt I played either role perfectly last year because I couldn't give either pursuit the time it deserved. Also, weekends were not great - I played with Emily and spent time with John but while Emily slept, I cooked and cleaned and had pretty much no time to myself except when I was at work. And then, I was working. It was really hard. But not in a fun way like being at home with the kids. Being a stay-at-home-mom is definitely harder than working outside the home, but the rewards are way bigger and for me, there's a lot more satisfaction knowing that I'm doing one thing REALLY well. I can only imagine that it will be even more difficult to balance it all when I have two kids to think about, oh yeah, and learning another language to boot.

So, what do I do? Yes, money will be very tight if I'm not earning a salary, but I'll be happy. However, in a few years, when the kids are both in school full-time and I'm figuring out what to do job-wise, will I regret not getting my French while I had the chance to have it paid for? Especially being that so many jobs in Ottawa, even outside the public service, require bilingualism. Or will I regret more missing this year with my kids? (Regardless of my decision for this year, I will be staying home with them after this year while they get through the kindergarten years. At least, that's my plan.)

John has been very careful to ensure that this decision is mine. He's also helped me see all the angles. He said this: I can always take French another time, but I will never get this particular year back with my kids and I should consider that along with everything else. This is very true. But it's also unlikely that I'll have the opportunity again to take full-time French training while earning my full salary.

This is one of the hardest decisions I've had to make, if not the hardest. I need to decide within a week or so because I need to inform the daycares what I'm going to do. I could tell them yes and then bag off if I change my mind (and lose some down payment money). I could tell them no and then if I change my mind find other daycare. Not the best option as good daycare takes a lot of time to find. It's out there but it takes a lot of looking. Or I could start the French, and if I hate the training (a common sentiment from people I know who have taken it. This is not a romantic, foreign-language school, self-indulgent ritual that you see in some movies) just quit and pull the kids out of daycare. An option, but a very disruptive one for everyone involved.

Clearly, I'm heavily conflicted. I'd like to know, what would you do?


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, quite the dilemma. What ever happened to the govt requiring you to put in a year after mat leave in order not to forsake your top-up entitlement? Is that still a factor?


little b said...

I'm not a mother yet, so I have no idea what it's really like, but I think the french training with a housekeeper is the way to go. Then your time at home isn't taken up by cleaning (you could even find something soup peddler ish for a few meals a week) and you could spend it with the kids. it's a year back at work, which gets you your top up and leaves you in a much better position later.

but again, who am i to know??

Karen said...

Jen - the govt does still require that but I can do it anytime - I can still take my 5 years care and nuturing leave first if I want to. And if I choose to never go back I can pay back my top-up out of my pension.

B - Problem is we can't really afford a housekeeper, especially since our daycare costs will be a lot more than before now that we'll have two kids in daycare. Our last housekeeping cost about $85 every two weeks and that was too much with everything else. Sucky.

sognatrice said...

Oh Karen, this is a toughie. If I were in your shoes, I would probably stay home with the kiddies and get the materials to learn French on my own (any way to get them from the person who'd be teaching you?). Not sure how much a private tutor would cost, but maybe an hour twice a week to go over lessons? It's not as intensive, would take more time to see real progress, and requires more self-discipline, but at least it's flexible (if H or E is sick, etc.).

Obviously I don't know the ins and outs of your household, but this is what first popped into my head.

I know it would suck to give up something that's already being paid for, but, IMHO, this time with your girls is priceless.

Damn I wish I spoke French!

Shan said...

If I had the ability to stay home, then I would. I do like my job and love the people I work with, but I would stay home in a heart beat if I could.

Anonymous said...

Do you remember those "choose your own adventure" books? You would start a story then decide to do either a or b and would flip to the appropriate page to see how the story would unfold. I wish I could provide you with an adventure book for your life so you could check out how each choice would unfold for you. Unfortunately (or fortunately), decisions have to be made without foresight.

In my opinion I think you have to evaluate who you want to be in the grand scheme of things. Would you only find fulfillment by being with H & E full-time? Or can you struggle through a year of being a part-time mom and part-time french language training student so that you can have more fulfilling career options with the government when the kidlets are in school? Do you want to work for the government or do you want to start your own business someday? You probably have evaluated these questions ad nauseum but decide for yourself what would cause the least regrets at the end of the day and go for it.


Jason said...

Hi Karen,

I couldn't help but post a comment since I feel like in many ways our situations have commonalities, as far as parenting and government careers go (although both are new to me, the latter being new as of April 16).

Like you, my boss went the extra distance and successfully convinced his superiors to classify my position (job offer) as BBB bilingual non-imperative. Needless to say, I was extremely grateful that he took on the extra work to have the position reclassified, and I'll be in his debt for a long time! My colleagues were happy for me, and also commented how increasingly rare it is to see non-imperative classifications, so I feel doubly lucky.

At first glance, I thought your situation was a stark choice between waged labour and non-waged labour, but upon closer reading, I realize that you're planning to be at home with the kids until kindergarten whether or not you take the language instruction. That being the case, then the question is whether or not you should take a year to be away from the kids, Monday through Friday between 9-5 along with the domestic challenges such an arrangement would entail.

In that light, I think that taking the language instruction is the right way to go -- I believe that the concentration of the instruction and its duration will be invaluable in terms of fostering language retention and proficiency, while giving you access to a host of CCC classified positions when both girls are in school. While it is true that being away from kids for a year would be a sacrifice, I also believe that turning down the training is a sacrifice as well. Thus, it comes down to "which sacrifice is bigger"? With the choice between being away from the kids for one out of five years and achieving CCC vs. being with the kids for five years but organizing/paying out of pocket for your own language training 5 years down the road, I would offer that the second choice is the bigger sacrifice.

I appreciate the argument that a parent cannot be replaced effortlessly by a daycare provider, but based on what you've described, it sounds like you've lined up some providers you can take some pride in. Additionally, for the downside of being away from mom, Emily and Hope will get to socialize with new, caring people, along with a host of little friends. In other words, I don't think you would have to feel that you were "abandoning" the girls for the year, but rather you could feel confident that, until you can return to full-time care, that they will get along quite well.

I've had extensive experience with home-based, self-taught language courses, and I would argue they are even more unglamorous than classroom learning. The main problem with home learning is that it's simply not possible to foster a natural and conversational versatility with the language. I think home courses are great for giving you an understanding of the mechanics of a language, and after a while, you can feel quite confident that you've learned your tenses and conjugations. But it's only when you're forced to suddenly engage in free-wheeling conservation outside the pressure-free environment of rote memorization that true comprehension begins. And that's why I think that the language training is too good to pass up. And as a Plan B, you could always back out of the training if it is truly unworkable -- your daycare providers might be a bit miffed, but spaces are in such demand that they will soon forget the inconvenience.

DaniGirl said...

Tough situation. It took me three tries to pass my B oral exam last year even with extra one-on-one instruction, and I'm not looking forward to trying for my C level!

If it were me (and that's the only insight I'd be comfortable offering), I'd take the year at home with the kids. There was no way we could have afforded it (I'm the primary income earner) but I wish we could have. I too love my day job, but the kids are young for such a very short time.

Good luck deciding!

little b said...

I'm posting again, because, well, why not?

I still think the language training is the way to go. Your girls will benefit from having you have a job that challenges you and keeps you happy apart from home. A well rounded mum is a good mum, or something like that.

but again, how would i really know, i'm not there yet.

Anonymous said...

I can't really back this up with anything, but I'd go for the language training. Somehow, it seems like it's going to affect a lot of future years. But... this is coming from someone with no tie-downs who works 80+ hours per week. Whatever you do, I know you'll do it with gusto, and I hope no regrets either way.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
It took me a few days thinking over about what I would do if I were in your position. As your sister and others said, I am not a mom, but hypotetically putting myself in your position, I would take the course for the year, and later on you decide what to do. The reason being all the pros that a lot o people already mentioned here.
I am saying that as per today. But who am I to say?
Good lucky! I really hope you feel better over whatever you decide.

Sheryl said...

I haven't read all the long posts here and I don't have kids but I work with kids and have a degree in child development so I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents.

Hope and Emily would do great either way but if they got to say, they would want mum. Mum is the best and no matter how good the child care is, mummy is so much better.

50% of brain development happens before age 3. The other 50% happens between age 3 and puberty, then it's all down hill from there.

And it's good to consider that studies show that when parents are happy, kids are happy. I got that you would be more stressed doing the training and it sounds like you really want to be home with your kids. So be where you are going to be happiest.

I hope you feel better soon... and you have GOT to see the 'dress' Beth got. It's crazy and fun and we were both laughing when she put it on! I think she's going to take her belly shot in it this week :-)