Years ago, Janet Ozzard was my editor at New York Magazine. She is one of the most brilliant, funny and incisive people I’ve ever met: She taught me to write about what actually matters to people, instead of what just sounds magazine-y. Her New York magazine work won like 8 billion awards (my favorite story I’ve ever written was her idea), and she then worked at DailyCandy and Lucky, and now she’s the executive editor of the parenting website Babycenter. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Kermit and toddler Ella. Here, Janet talks about how she tries to find balance (including moving her family cross-country!)…
1. What’s your work schedule?
Our house wakes up around 7am most days. (Emphasis on most; Ella is 18 months old and teething, so we have the occasional bad night where she’s fussy and upset, and we’re all awake to 5am or up and down for a couple hours and zombies in the morning. But that’s mostly past.)
Ella plays in her crib with books and stuffed animals (and makes the Most Adorable Noises as she “reads” to herself), while I become human (meaning, I make coffee) and listen to the weather and news on the radio. I get her dressed and give her breakfast, then hand her off to my husband so I can shower, dress and leave for work around 8:15am.
I get in by 9am (or aim to, anyway). Days at Babycenter are like most places—a combination of meetings and deadlines and content creation and administration. I’ve only been at this job since April, but I like it a lot; people are serious about their work, but not neurotic. Coming from 20 years in fashion and lifestyle magazines in New York, it feels very calm.
I try to bust out of the office right at 5pm, though it’s more like 5:30pm some days. I’m home by 6pm. This is very new for me. Every job I’ve had since my Women’s Wear Daily days has required late nights, and I used to love it; I’d get a second adrenaline rush around 5pm. When I was at New York Magazine, if I got home by 8pm I felt like it was an early night. Having a child has definitely changed that.
2. Your family recently moved from NYC to San Francisco. Why?
Basically I’ve been trying to move to northern California since I was a child, since the first time we came out here on a family trip and I was like, “Wait, why doesn’t everyone live here? The air smells good and it’s beautiful all the time and it doesn’t snow and have you been to Carmel?” I mean, I wasn’t pining for it, because I lived in the center of the universe and had an awesome career and wonderful friends, but whenever I’d meet someone from California I’d get all moony and say, “Someday I’m going to live in San Francisco.” I interviewed for a job at the L.A. Times once because I was like, well, it’s not San Francisco but it’s California.
In late 2011 I heard about an executive editor opening at Babycenter, which is a huge (like, 10 million unique visitors a month) parenting website based in San Francisco. I was looking for a full-time job; I’d left NYMag in 2010 to go to DailyCandy, but that didn’t work out and I left after 8 months. Then we adopted Ella (which is a whole nother story, but basically it was a miraculously fast adoption—seven weeks). I freelanced pretty steadily for almost a year, but I’m not a happy freelancer; I like the structure and group dynamics of an office.
I was interviewing all over the place, but none of the jobs were that compelling. I felt like I’d had the best job in magazines at New York; plus honestly, I knew what kind of hours are expected at New York media jobs. You go in at 10 but you’re there til 8 or 9. I didn’t want that; I wanted to be home at 6 giving Ella dinner. I wanted a job and I wanted to make money but not at the expense of my personal life. The Babycenter job appealed to me for so many reasons—it’s a great, powerful, trustworthy website that really helps moms with good information, but it also seemed like a humane place to work.
My first interview for the Babycenter job took place at the Newark Airport Marriott restaurant last November. Linda, who is now my boss, was on her way back to California. We hit it off, and I did more interviews, then came out to San Francisco in January with my husband Kermit and Ella, and they liked it (I think In-n-Out burger, and the perpetual sunshine, helped a lot). I asked Linda point-blank about family life and work, and she reassured me that it was a good place to work. Of course, we all check our email all the time, and get back online after our kids are asleep, but there’s none of that New York “your office is your real home” mentality.
3. How do you handle childcare?
We have a nanny from 8am to 3pm. My husband is self-employed—he has a small specialty baking company called Kermit’s Brownies; they are truly the greatest brownies you will ever eat in your entire life—so he takes care of Ella in the afternoons. We supplement with babysitters occasionally, but we definitely could use some more time together.
4. What is your relationship with your nanny like?
I like Andrea a lot, and she takes good care of Ella and is smart and affectionate with her, but there’s no question that I am the mom center of Ella’s world—when she sees me, she gets that “Yay! It’s Mom!” look of sheer delight.
Our New York nanny, Agnes St. John Castro, was another story. She is just incredible—warm and loving and sincerely attached to our little girl, super-responsible and caring, and a fun, interesting person to hang out with. When Agnes would go into Ella’s room in the morning, Ella would bounce up and down with delight, and the two of them had such great times together. I used to daydream about leaving my job and going to hang out with them at the Children’s Museum on the Upper West Side. Honestly, telling Agnes that we were moving to San Francisco was harder than telling my mom. As a going-away present, Agnes made a calendar with all the pictures she’d taken of Ella, and gave copies to my mother, my mother-in-law and me (and kept one for herself). It hangs on the fridge, and I will keep it forever.
5. When do you typically hang with your daughter?
In the morning, when she gets up, we read books together and play with her toys. When I get home at night, we have an hour or so of playing, though often I’m tired, so she’s not getting my best self. Often I’ll take her out for a walk so my husband can have a quiet half hour to himself.
I like the weekends, when I can be with her all day—but at the same time, I’m glad when Monday morning comes around and I go back to work in the world of adults.
6. Do you have any rituals that you like to do together?
Oh yes. I am the bath giver, and don’t try to get between me and bath time with my little girl. I love the ritual of running the warm water, adding bubbly soap (Burt’s Bees is our preferred brand), then playing with all the different bath toys. I’m showing Ella how to fill her squirt toys with water and squirt me, which I will doubtlessly come to regret soon. She particularly loves a squirty carp (or maybe it’s a koi) we got last weekend; it’s about as big as her arm. She also has become fond of a recently acquired yellow rubber duck.
After the bath, she changes into her footie pajamas (fleece, because it’s chilly here at night), then she gets a bottle and some cuddling, and then bed. The lamp in her room is an heirloom; it belonged to each of my five older siblings, then to me, now to her. It’s a cheerful yellow chicken with a nightlight inside the egg.
7. What do you find tricky/so-so/hilariously bad about your current set-up?
Well, first let me say that this is not a complaint. I am incredibly lucky and blessed to have this wonderful husband and beautiful little girl, and I am aware of that everyday. I got married late (in my mid-forties) and had kind of given up on these things happening for me, so even the bad days (and nights) are just gifts in my life.
But: when I get home from work, I’m tired, and in an ideal world I’d have half an hour to sit and decompress with my husband. Instead, I roll into a situation where he’s had our daughter for several hours and needs a break. Plus, he’s getting dinner ready (he’s the main cook, always has been), so I have to get her out from underfoot so he can do that. One solution would be to find a nanny who can stay later, but as mentioned, we like our caregiver a lot, and she has her own family, so she’s only available til 3pm.
So what happens is, I rush home, feel guilty if I’m not there by 6pm, immediately change out of anything that has to be dry cleaned, spend an hour amusing my child, wolf down our dinner, and rush into bath time. Is this bad? No, and it will change as she gets older. But I wonder if it could somehow be “funner.”
8. How do you fit your marriage into the balance?
Well, we haven’t seen a movie in a movie theater since 2010, and I am frankly bummed to have missed both “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers.” We are currently looking for a regular babysitter. So, anybody in San Francisco who wants to sit for a really sweet 18-month-old, call me!
Seriously: I have fantasies about going to Carmel or Napa for a romantic weekend sans child, but I’m also not ready to leave my child overnight with anybody. It’ll happen soon enough. In the meantime, we have a couch date every night to watch whatever we’re Netflixing. Once a week we supplement with ice cream.
9. Do you have time for yourself?
Hahahaha! A couple weeks ago I had a little meltdown and was like “I just. want. a fucking. pedicure.” Because I just could not fit it in, between the new job and the relocation and all that stuff, and it was eating away at my self-esteem that I couldn’t show my toes. We finally hired a babysitter for a few hours on a Saturday so I could go downtown and have a pedicure and buy a new pair of jeans.
I’m pretty sure that’ll get better as she gets older. But she’s so cute right now, I don’t really want her to get older!
10. Who cleans the house?
I will, for the rest of my life, do whatever I need to do in order to be able to afford having lovely people come over and clean my house. If I have to take a second job making pizza, or selling real estate, or whatever, I will do that. I hate vacuuming or any house task that requires that any “push a stick object around the floor” activity—mopping, sweeping, etc.
Don’t get me wrong—I love to clean and straighten. In fact, I probably like it too much and that’s the problem. I can spend two hours emptying and re-folding my T-shirt drawer (or yours), or cleaning the fridge to germless perfection, but then I’m exhausted for the day.
We used to order in more when we lived in NYC, but that doesn’t exist so much here. And Kermit’s a really good cook. He does all the food shopping and cooking. As I speak (or type, really) he’s roasting chickens and making bucatini cacio e pepe. Did I mention how lucky I am?
11. How do you feel about being the breadwinner in your family?
Being the breadwinner seems almost incidental to me—it’s more like a natural division of labor. Kermit likes to cook and I like to clean; Kermit likes to bake and I like to eat; Kermit’s tempermentally suited to be self-employed, whereas I like the orderliness of office life and team work and all that stuff. It happens that jobs in offices tend to be jobs with health insurance and bonuses and that sort of thing.
12. Do you ever wonder how other women manage the juggle?
It does blow my mind that my mom had six children and ran a business, too. I really wonder, did she not feel overwhelmed, or did she just shelve those feelings because she didn’t have time? She is very organized, so maybe that’s the answer.
I often wonder about adopting another child, but we’re just out of the waking-up-several-times-a-night year, and I’m in my mid-forties, and I don’t know if I have the energy to do it again. But…I’m starting to miss the baby-ness of Ella, and two kids is so much fun, and you only have one life, and if you think you’ll regret not doing something, you should do it. So, check back with me in a year.
Thank you so much, Janet.
P.S. Last summer’s first balance series about moms who work from home.