Monday, January 14, 2013

The Importance of "Or"

I have always had a hard time picking ONE thing and sticking with it. I like options. Not sure what my career path would be? No problem. I'll double major. That way I can be a lobbyist, or an editor, or a journalist, or a public relations professional (or an area manager for a highway construction company--but we digress)--the point is, I had options. I didn't have to choose, and I could do what I wanted when the time was right.

I think that buying into the "more is more" culture that we live in daily is easy to do. However, sometimes more is just more. More work, more sleep deprivation, more stress, more crunch. It means less time, less sleep, less enjoyment. I knew that I was leery of working full-time with a baby in tow, but it was for the superficial reasons: How did it look to everyone else? Was the baby crying in the background? What if my office is filled with non-work related items? How would people take me seriously with a screaming infant in the backseat of my car? It never really crossed my mind that I was leery of it because I couldn't do it, or even because it would be hard.

But it is hard. Really hard. There have been several articles that I've read lately about women "having it all." They all follow the same vein: Can we have it all? Is it possible? Were we lied to as children? Is it really not possible? Honestly, I don't care if we can or can't. The questions are, do we want it? Is having both a full-time career and full-time family really better? In almost every aspect of my life, "BOTH! Don't make me choose!" has seemed like the best answer possible. But is it really best now?

For many of us, the conjunction that ties our lives together is "and". I want this AND this. I'll do this AND this. But the word we need to choose is "or".  "Or" is really hard to come by. "Or" is hard to say.  "Or" means that we have to choose. That we have to let something go. "Or" almost feels like admitting defeat--like I wasn't good enough to do it all.

Academically, I know that "or" is healthy. I know that choices must be made, and that both of the proverbial paths cannot be taken. But "or" also takes a lot of thought, a lot of effort, a lot of sacrifice.

This isn't an entry that is going to end with a huge revelation. I have no idea when or where I will cut back on my "and's" and add to my "or's". I really don't know what to choose or how to choose. I'm not sure the best criteria to use. But I do know that something's got to give. There is a reason that people are stay-at-home moms or full-time working moms. There is a reason that there are daycare centers and nannies. There's a reason that 40- and 50-something-year-old women are less qualified for high-level jobs in government--many of them took time off to raise their families. For the most part, their male colleagues didn't do the same thing. Voila! There's a difference in qualifications--and a chasm between the genders.

The problem is that I don't want to miss out. I don't want to miss out on any of Jack's firsts. I also don't want to miss out on any of Maymead's firsts! I also feel responsible for providing for my family. But I also feel responsible for Jack being a well-rounded, healthy, adjusted child--whose mama isn't exhausted after full work days. BUT he won't be any of these things if I keep running around like a crazy woman--trying to do all of my AND's with him perched on my hip.

It is time for some Or's. And I suppose this post is to be continued... 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Truth

I have tried to write a blog post a number of times in the last few months. Honestly, all of the baby-ness that has consumed my life doesn't seem to be very pertinent to highways or high heels. I've tried to tie Jack into a neat little blog about how precious he is and then move onto "work related topics," but that doesn't seem to work. I've tried to consider the feminist views of working with a baby in the office. Yes, you may refer to my post in December 2011 and call me a hypocrite. I wouldn't blame you--in fact, I feel like a hypocrite daily. And I still find our arrangement less than ideal, but this is survival mode. And honestly, none of my life is separate from Jack now. So, I'll write about being a mom, and consider highway topics one day in the future. 

This summer, I considered joining forces with several girl friends to write a blog from multiple perspectives of ladies in their twenties. Every post that I wrote for that blog was bleak. It was ugly. It was thinly veiled with humor, but it was clear: I was in a hole. I think that I have come out of the 6 or 8 week old baby hole, and life is starting to balance out nicely again. But it doesn't mean that it isn't hard. And this is what I've found: 

Nobody tells you the truth.

Everyone talks about the cute little cheeks. The smushy mouths. The warm cuddles. They are all fabulous. And I swear, I wouldn't trade this sweet baby for anything. In reality, I have one of the happiest babies that I know. In fact, I posted a picture of him crying the other day, just to prove that he does it. But it's still exhausting. And it's doubly exhausting to do it while working full-time. And it's triply exhausting to do it while working full-time WITH the baby. I am truly blessed to be able to bring him with me, but the pressure is almost crushing at times. I try to accomplish all of my tasks in a frenzy, while keeping the baby from making a peep. I try to make phone calls while he naps, but quietly, so that I don't wake him. I try to type one handed while I hold him, and bounce him on one leg, and take him out for lunch so that we have somewhere other than the office to be during the day. This is my struggle, but everyone has some kind of struggle when they have a baby--we may just not have the same ones.

A dear friend blogged about her constant anxiety since she had her baby who is just days older than Jack. I don't think that I have constant anxiety, but I understand where she is coming from. 

Someone else confessed that she wanted to see her doctor about what she suspected to be postpartum depression. I encouraged her to, because until early August, I had considered the same thing. But no one talks about this. 

Someone else said that she thought it was supposed to be so much better than this. That her six week old son was sweet, and she loved him, but he was HARD. 

I even quickly spoke with a friend in passing and confessed how tired I am. She confessed how tired she is, too. And then we let it hang. We didn't dig into it. We didn't share gripes or complaints, we just left it there. I almost feel like the conversation was tangible, and that if I walked back into her living room, I could pick it up. Literally. Why did we do that? We even laughed, dry, mirthless laughs...both knowing that if we actually told the truth, that we might be a little too vulnerable.

Why don't moms tell each other how hard it is, without trying to fix each other's problems? Why don't we say, I know that your struggle isn't the same as mine, but I do have a struggle. We complain about our husbands' constant desires to fix things when all we want to do is express our frustration, and then do it to each other. I know that it is well-meaning, but gosh, it's tiring. It's tiring to want to fix each other. And it's tiring to feel that you are the one being fixed. 

There is no doubt, that October is not a big black hole like July seemed to be. I am glad that I didn't write anything then! I can honestly say that four months is SO MUCH BETTER than six or eight weeks. But, wow, so much better is relative. And I'm trying not to wish away his baby days, because he is growing so quickly! I appreciate all of my well-meaning friends, but sometimes, a gripe is just a gripe. And let's be honest, sometimes it is just nice to know that other people's children aren't perfect, that life isn't all baking cookies and taking trips to apple orchards. And that other moms are struggling with learning how to be moms, too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Primaries and the Gas Tax

I have always loved politics. This is clearly inherited from my father. Bart didn't seem to get the bug. Mom and John each agree to play the game when it's necessary. But Dad and I? We love it.

I can't help but get excited when each political season rolls around. I know, it seems like there isn't a season that isn't political these days. And I can get frustrated with the non-stop media spiels when it seems like they are just "making" news for the heck of making news. However, now that we are into the primaries, and North Carolina's is gearing up in two weeks, I'm ready to jump in. If there's a candidate speaking at one of my meetings, I'll be there. If there's a party or a rally to attend, I'll most likely drag John along. If there's a political sticker or button to wear, it's mine. I even vote on election day, just so that I can wear my "I Voted" sticker all day long, instead of voting ahead of time and feeling silly wearing my sticker all alone.

That being said, I've done some research on my MANY options for every office that can be elected in Iredell County. Unfortunately, in North Carolina, you must be affiliated with a party in order to participate in the primaries. This really goes against my Gen Y perspective to vote for the person--the candidate with the good ideas--rather than the letter attached to someone's name. However, this frustration is somewhat lessened by the knowledge that over 85% of Iredell County is Republican. You would think that would limit your options, but when there are 8 Republicans (and often no Democratic primaries at all) to choose from in any given race, it seems as though the choices are fairly broad (relatively speaking).

I specifically have spent some time researching my local NC senate and house candidates. It's these people who most impact the state funding streams for highway construction. While I am not going to publicly endorse or denounce any individual, I would like to share what was said in a lunch meeting that I attended today:

This candidate has been privy to the Republican caucus discussions in Raleigh (doesn't give much away, does it? Ha!) In this meeting of business people in the Statesville area, this person announced that it was the Republican caucus' primary goal to "attack the gas tax" during this session. This person also claimed that it was the gas tax that was hurting the economy, making it harder for people in the state of North Carolina to make ends meet, and that as long as the projects that he/she supported weren't cut, there should be no problem with decreasing our already inadequate tax. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this person is very charismatic, seems to have huge support, and can make these broad reaching statements without much push-back from the group that was assembled. This person, many people would say, is that shoe-in for the Republican nomination for the seat he/she is running for...

In light of this, please let me share some actual FACTS with you:

  1. Capping the gas tax at the levels proposed will save the average North Carolina driver $13.00-$30.00 PER YEAR. This is about $1.00-$2.50 PER MONTH. I'm not so sure that $1.00/month is causing any particular individual in the state heartburn.
  2. Capping the gas tax at the levels proposed will cut the highway construction budget by almost $100 million this year alone. The highway fund is currently under-funded, with existing gas tax revenues. Cutting it an additional $100 million could be devastating. 
  3. The cut in revenues could put thousands of construction jobs at risk. Aren't all politicians claiming that job creation is the number one priority of their campaigns? How does saving drivers $0.25 per week justify adding to the unemployment levels of our state? 
I started this post by saying that I love politics, and I truly do. This season, and every season, how each political candidate plans to impact highway funding is of utmost importance when I decide how to vote. I hope that you also care about your state's roads and general infrastructure. But more importantly, I hope that you look at what is most important to you and research the candidates' opinions on those topics. Too many people go to the polls with no idea what the person they vote for believes or truly supports.

I'll leave you with a quote from Republican NC Senator Bill Rabon when cutting the gas tax was voted on (and defeated) last session: "I'm not going to be the one to say, 'Hey, I'm the guy who saved you $23 on gasoline taxes, and I'm really sorry about the school bus that your kid was on that fell through the bridge that we didn't repair.'"

I hope we have enough political will and common sense to keep this perspective as the dominant one in the NC legislature. NC voters are the ones who need to guarantee that we do, and not fall for good-looking charisma or hyperbole...otherwise, what seems like an overstated assessment by Senator Rabon could be our reality.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bid Day

Lettings are strange animals. 

Most people in this world have no idea what they are. People often ask why I'm attending a "wedding" on a Tuesday. It used to frustrate me, but now I just laugh. I'll say, "No, not a wedding. A letting--a bid letting. It's how we get work." Most of the time, the conversation ends there because it's a foreign, somewhat boring-sounding concept. While the concept may sound boring, the actual process of a letting is anything but boring. 

The "older" generation tells the "younger" generation how much we've missed out on; how the lettings used to be about relationships, gathering with other folks from the industry who lived around the state, and all-nighters to work on strategy and tweaking numbers. Fortunately, I am just barely old enough to know what they are talking about. Sometime in the mid-nineties, it was the rage to purchase a computer, a massive printer with rolls of paper, and floppy disks. These would accompany you on your monthly journey to each state capitol and would make you super-high tech during the process. It only required two whole hotel luggage carts to get this modern technology into your hotel room. 

I know this for a fact, because as a child, my father employed my willingness to endlessly enter numbers into a computer. At first, he only used my skills at home. Once I had proven that I was capable of listening to and entering accurate numbers, he decided that I could progress in my responsibility. On a few rare occasions, most likely during summer break, he felt that it made sense for me to join him in Nashville to enter his numbers into the computer for him. This was a special treat. I got to travel with my daddy, stay up late, and enjoy the Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Krystal cheeseburgers that arrived at the hotel promptly at midnight. I got to meet the people who my father respected and talked about when he was discussing jobs. I got to feel the energy and the tension that is generated by a group of people who know they must be low in order to be awarded a job, but high enough to cover their costs and make a profit. And I got to witness exactly what a bid letting felt like. I am probably one of the few people in my 20s to have this experience, since none of us were of working age to have experienced this professionally. 

Fast-forward to 2011. All state-wide lettings are electronic. There is no gathering of the industry--everyone works from what is most likely a number of sleekly designed laptops, all inside a home office. There is no dash to deliver the sealed envelope--a bid is sent with a click of a button. There are no Krispy Kremes or Krystals, but that probably has something to do with being headquartered in Mountain City. 

In our office, what remains, though, is the energy. The days leading up to the third Tuesday of every month are filled with energy. This was most clearly exhibited during the December NCDOT letting. It is common for the State of North Carolina to let their paving projects in the winter. This allows the contractors who are awarded the project time to plan for the project, line up subcontractors, and coordinate the work with the State. It also allows us to work on these projects during the entire paving season. What is not common is for all of the counties we would normally bid to be in the exact same letting. They would typically be spread out over 2 or 3 months. This year they were not. We bid 10 jobs in one day. To say that there was energy in the office on December 20 (and many days before), would be a huge understatement. All hands were on deck for our biggest letting day of the year. Boo-boos were unacceptable. Uh-ohs could not be allowed. To screw up one job is rough, to screw up on 10 jobs could be disastrous. 

The amazing part to me, is that with all of this pressure, our office maintained a light-hearted approach to the day. One of our head estimators has been with Maymead since I was a toddler. He has taught me how to run our systems, how to compare quotes, and how to enter things in the way that "Pard" likes them. One of our other estimators has been with Maymead almost as long. He taught me how to swim when I was three. He has also taught me much of the spec books and how to understand the nuances of the mix designs. My father runs the ship, but relies on them and many others. He is truly a master of strategy, a numbers wizard, and a shrewd businessman. However, in the middle of it all, he takes the time to explain to Bart and me why he looks at items in certain ways, how bonding on a particular job works, or to answer any of our other questions. These three men have worked with each other for over 20 years. So while we may not have had Krystals at midnight, when we went home to eat spaghetti that my mom had prepared before going back to the office to keep working, it was like having family dinner. 

Many people say that the transportation industry is like a big family. And I think that many people across each of the states that we work in would agree. It is unfortunate that the contractors don't come from around the state to bid work in a central location because the younger generation misses out on the exposure to other experienced people from across the state. But I am fortunate to have received the tutelage that I receive each month within our own corporation. 

It is absolutely impossible to describe the electricity associated with any bid day. Faxes blare, emails ding, phones ring off the hook, and people run up and down the halls all day. It is necessary to keep focus on the hundreds of numbers on any given computer screen or quote page. Likewise, balancing the numbers with the descriptions of a work item in the ever-changing spec book or proposal is critical. 

Honestly, the set up may not be in a capitol city's hotel, but I'm not sure that a whole lot of the process has changed. The excitement may not be quite the same as when I was in awe of the hot Krispy Kremes, but being tasked with assisting in the process of ensuring that we have work for our company day-in and day-out has a responsibility, electricity and enjoyment all of its own.

The technology may be more advanced, and the venue a little less swanky, but I'm still entering numbers for my daddy. And enjoying every minute of it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

High Heels, Highways, and High Chairs...

Well, my last post chronicled our West Coast travels, but left out one very important detail: while we were driving between Sacramento and Santa Rosa, we spoke with my OBGYN's office and learned that, in fact, we were expecting a baby. We felt fairly certain that we knew what the doctor's office would say when I spoke with them, but it didn't make the confirmation any less exciting or terrifying. 

We are now about 8 weeks past that initial conversation, and the information is still overwhelming. Of course, it's fun. It's exciting. We are blessed to have wonderful, supportive and thrilled families. Our baby will have double the biological aunts and uncles that I have ever had, and at least a dozen "aunts" and "uncles" in our dear friends, all of whom have taken a special interest in our "peanut," "Baby H," or "legacy" (depending on your favorite nickname.) 

Yesterday, John was brave enough to tell me that I was an incredibly hard pregnant woman to describe. Fortunately, his explanation struck me as humorous and accurate. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am typically a type A, moderate control freak. I like to have a plan. I like for the plan to go my way. I will typically go the extra mile to make sure that things are done the "right" way. However, as he has observed, this pregnancy has both heightened that trait and relaxed it at the same time. The things that I am deeply convicted about needing to happen need to happen right then. There is no way to do it but the way I want it done. And I most frequently want it done immediately. Fortunately for my husband's sanity, there are fewer things that I feel that strongly about. More things can wait. More things don't HAVE to happen. Life goes on without another side dish, an unnecessary cake, or extra home projects. Pickles, salsa, apple butter and jellies were not made this year--and that's OK. 

Other things that can wait are the big decisions. We don't have our names picked out, and that's OK, too. By late December we should know if the baby is a boy or a girl. At that time John and I will decide what our child's name will be. I don't have a birthing plan and probably won't. That is something that can wait forever--and that I'm not going to be pressured into drafting. A thousand different nursery ideas (paint color, furniture, themes...) circle through my mind, but that doesn't have to be set for several months. 

And I have no idea what I am going to do about work. As more people in my workplace know our news, the question is asked more frequently. And I have no idea what the answer is. As much as I feel that I am an "empowered, twenty-first century woman," I still feel that it is inappropriate to take a baby to the office. Some of my early memories of particular women in our industry were speaking to them on the phone with a screaming infant in the background. These particular women expected me to halt my business conversation to tend to the needs of their children, resume the conversation, and discuss their children instead. This hit me as particularly unprofessional and left a lasting impact (and made me realize how we as women undermine ourselves by assuming that our personal and professional lives can easily meld together because they are important to us--without realizing how imposing that is on other people.) I am not saying that emergencies don't happen, that an occasional work day from home won't be necessary, and that children can be expected to be silent just because a phone rings. However, having children at work as the norm is not very attractive to me (nor does it seem particularly professional.) 

On the flip side, all day daycare is not my first choice. Neither is staying at home full-time. I hope that we are able to configure a balanced system where I have plenty of time with my child that isn't only first thing in the morning or at bedtime. I hope that we can find a special individual to care for our child when we can't. I hope that there is an excellent facility where he or she may occasionally go in a group setting. And I hope that I can stay actively involved with my work and successfully raise my child--the way that I want to, when I want to, and in the "right" way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

West Coast Travels

You would think that with all of the travel that I do during a normal work week (and then a normal weekend) that when we go on a trip, we might just relax a little bit...why in the world would we do that?! 

My view of  the world is that if we're somewhere, we should experience it to the fullest, otherwise we're just cheating ourselves (fortunately for us both, John generally agrees with this sentiment.) So, we saw wine country and the San Francisco area, to the fullest! 

A few photos to share: 

John has heard about In-N-Out Burgers, and thought that we needed to try them, right off the airplane, just outside of Sacramento! 

The next morning, we were greeted by the Pacific Ocean AND a Rainbow! What a neat first view of the Pacific coast! 

John was compelled to put his feet in the ocean--RIGHT THEN!  
(It was a quite nippy 40ish-50ish degrees in the air, so i passed)

We found sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf! 

We found Lombard Street and joined the line..

Super-fun to drive down! 

Golden Gate photo shoot before heading back to Wine Country

Thought we had a full day? Nope, we went on to Napa to join the family and ride the Napa Wine Train! 

The train was beautiful and the food was delicious! 

We started the next day with cinnamon buns worth photographing (too bad, I thought of it too late...) So, we headed to the Redwood forest, which was obviously quite impressive. Love the pic of the whole family! 

We headed back to Napa for some hands-on sampling, and were not disappointed! It was EXACTLY what we thought wine country would be...quaint, gorgeous, and full of wine! 

Gorgeous grapes, ready to be harvested! 

The main event: A Beautiful Wine Country Wedding! 

With the gorgeous bride and handsome groom! We love these two!! 

The whole family! 

It seemed like our trip ended quite abruptly from there... I'd love to tell you that we have "traveling home" photos, but a 4:30am alarm does not lend itself to pictures for the rest of the day!  I hope you enjoyed our mini-photo album. John and I both would recommend taking this trip. If you are considering it, absolutely do it! If you are not, add it to your list! if you want recs, we'd be happy to make a few! And if you want someone to join you on your trip, we'd be up for it--it is already on our "places to return" list.

Monday, September 26, 2011

For Whatever Reason, It Passed Through a Woman...

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of traveling to several of our asphalt plants with my father and a gentleman who has been newly hired to work with our industry organization, the Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association (CAPA). This man, who has recently been employed by the NCDOT in numerous rolls, has been going to meet with member companies of CAPA to see where we are, what we do, and to get a feel for the contractor's take on the industry. He has a wealth of knowledge, and we are very fortunate to be working with him. Since most of his experience comes from working with the NCDOT, he is taking the initiative to see what the industry looks like from the contractors' perspectives.  

As I rode and mostly listened, my father told him our basic stories: how we grew in the North Carolina  marketplace, the genesis of the asphalt plants from the quarry in Mountain City, and our family's basic history. At one point, he actually turned around and said, "I bet Sis is tired of hearing this story." And while I was glad to be included in getting to know this gentleman, I was truly tired of the story--and many of the other stories. 

I remember being in high school and being told that we should listen to the stories of our parents and grandparents because they were important to who we are, who they are, and the lessons that come from them. I remember trying to listen to stories that I had heard 1,000 times with renewed interest. There were times that I could find that interest, and occasionally times that I couldn't. 

As I rode in the back seat of the car last week, I remember thinking: "Yes, we KNOW that you had that conversation. We KNOW that the agreement worked a particular way. Yes, we KNOW..." I also acknowledge that those were not fair thoughts. The individual who my father was speaking to didn't know any of this. In fact, he knew little about us, and these stories are key to why I even have a job and why our company's geographic footprint is what it is. 

And then, as the conversation continued, our guest asked a question that I have never asked. One that seems most obvious, but I had never taken the time to contemplate: What is the family name that gets carried through the farm? In the last 3 generations, I knew the answer to this question: concisely, the answer is "Mount". Ganny and Uncle Bud were Mounts, their father was a Mount, and it just so happens that my father is a Roark because my grandmother married a Roark. 

But this wasn't my father's reply at all. He simply said, "It changes. For whatever reason, the farm has always been passed down through a woman's side." He then went on to trace the lines (which we know for 10 generations). Ganny (his mother) was a Mount married to a Roark, her mother was a Brown married to a Mount, her mother was a.... (I lost track, but could come up with the rest of the genealogy fairly quickly.) Somewhere in there are Wagners and Vaughts and a host of other local family names that all blend together to create my family. 

What a strange response. Our visitor thought so, too. He asked if there were contracts to this effect (there are not,) he asked if there were no boys (in many cases there were boys). How strange for a piece of property (whose owners date back to the 1700s) not to be passed from father to son, time and time again. For whatever reason, it is not just the Brown or Wagner or Vaught Family Farm. It's a farm that has been known by many names. 

For some reason, this resonated strongly with me. Probably because I am now a Harbin, and I have occasionally mourned the loss of my maiden name. As a woman in the family, with a new name, I was proud to think of those women, who decade after decade in a patriarchal society, kept their farm and gave it to their children. What resolve, luck, and courage that took. And what responsibility it places on Bart and me, to keep the same land intact for our families.  

As Dad concluded his stories about our family, company, and the farm, he said what he always says, "That and a quarter won't get you a cup of coffee at Hardee's these days, but we think it's pretty neat."