BOARDROOM BABIES

BOARDROOM BABIES

From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Boardroom Babies

Nothing happens unless first a dream.

Carl Sandburg

It was the late 1990s, and my life held little promise. Truthfully, I spent most hours in fear. I had two children, three incurable diseases, and I was alone. My life pretty much started out in darkness and stayed on that course.

I was given up at birth and never saw a blood relative until I gave birth to one. If I had to say something positive about my life while growing up, I’d say two things: one, I made it, and two, it created who and what I am today.

When I was in my early thirties, I was officially “rubber stamped” by the British Columbia government in Canada as permanently disabled. The reality of that “achievement” permeated my consciousness and left little room for future promise or passion for myself or for the two children I was raising alone.

At that time I was experiencing three incurable diseases. The most serious was Crohns disease, an inflammatory bowel situation that’s best not discussed at the dinner table or during business meetings. I also had iritis and associative arthritis that left me intermittently blind, in pain, and periodically walking with a cane.

At one point I was working part-time as a freelance journalist, the only kind of work I was able to juggle around sickness, children, and my desolate no-light-atthe-end-of-the-tunnel reality.

During the winter of 1997, a strange thought “popped” into my head. I decided that rather than work with the mainstream news media, I would start my own “positive news” newspaper. For someone immersed in negativity, disempowerment, limitations, and struggle, this was a random and obscure line of thinking, indeed. But the thought would not go away. In fact, I tried to make it go away. You see, I had no family, resources, or support system. Moreover, I certainly had no knowledge or experience— practical, theoretical, or otherwise—about publishing a newspaper. I did have plenty of excellent reasons why not to do this. The thought of making a contribution to both the world and my family’s way of life, security, and future helped outweigh the enormous list of cons—and so my adventure began.

After a couple months of planning and solo thought incubation that bordered on obsession, my first little positive-news newspaper hit Vancouver streets in January 1998! It was a small, odd-looking paper and contained only two ads. It was a wonderful family achievement from start to finish.

In the early months I manually “pasted-up” the newspaper on my living room floor using old-fashioned blue line flats, spending hours painstakingly aligning ads and columns of text in my twenty-four-page paper. My one-year-old, Brieonda, often “helped” by unpasting headlines off the flats and onto her forehead or derriere, proudly crawling around the living room to display her handiwork for all to see.

I appointed eight-year-old Christina as the kids’ columnist and sent her into the community on assignment. She covered everything from Adventure Kids Camp experiences to movies and entertainment. For her restaurant reviews, she sampled everything from fine dining to fries and “wrote it up” for each edition. A few months into our newspaper project, Christina interviewed her first “dignitary,” the mayor of Coquitlam in British Columbia. I’m not sure which of them was more terrified. It was all I could do not to burst into laughter as I watched the nervous pair turn similar shades of scarlet during the twenty-minute tête-à-tête. She also once covered a comedic Shakespeare performance. In her story she referred to the man who led the troupe as “the throwee up guy.” A framed copy of her review still hangs on his office wall today.

Our little family was all too familiar with the dreaded distribution department. Newspaper delivery took place every month around the time we’d just recovered from the previous month’s job. Delivering ten thousand of anything in your spare time is no easy task.

When I wasn’t writing, designing, or delivering papers, I sold advertising. I dropped into local businesses doing “cold call” advertising sales, a task I didn’t enjoy. But this was part of the job, and I had kids to feed and dreams to reach. I’d arrive, wild-haired, flushed, and sweaty, propping the door open with one foot as I pushed through my load: the baby, the buggy, an overstuffed baby bag, a briefcase weighted down with newspapers, plus my purse with the cell phone buried at the very bottom of the heap. As you can probably imagine, our appearance generated a wide range of reactions.

Some of my potential clients eagerly interacted with my “little person” for a few moments. It presented a welcome diversion and an excuse to be silly. Working moms openly welcomed us. They demonstrated an understanding of my challenges by providing cracker snacks or office supplies for a mini craft-making session while we “did business.” Others would take a man-all-battle-stations stance as we entered the foyer, battening down any potential breakables, never taking their eyes off my child. These meetings often were particularly short.

One memorable appointment was with the president of a large, family restaurant chain. After a phone tag game that should have qualified us for an Olympic medal, I finally pinned down a meeting time. I had actually booked a sitter for this meeting, but at the last moment she canceled. Thus, I arrived at my meeting as gracefully as ever and was led, baby buggy and all, into a tiny but comfy private meeting room. I waited apprehensively for the company president to enter.

I figured, hey, it’s only twenty minutes. We could get through it.

Just then, the company president entered the room. With a brief but discernable sideways glance at my “associate,” he dispensed a friendly greeting. After a few moments of “weather chitchat,” our meeting began—and so did my daughter. I had come fully prepared with crayons, toys, and favorite treats. Unfortunately, her 2:00 PM nap time was fast approaching; for toddlers, that’s a time akin to a vampire eyeing the approach of the rising sun.

At first, my second born simply emitted a few strategically timed mutters and grunts. By the five-minute mark she reached full-fledged whines. I forged ahead with my sales presentation while handing my increasingly loud toddler an endless stream of potentially amusing items and snacks, shaking them maniacally in front of her. To my horror, she displayed complete disinterest in everything.

She soon launched full-scale war, picking up the box of Smarties that I’d hoped would capture her interest. She carefully opened it, changed the whines to full-on yells, and opened fire, launching a rainbow of tiny candy missiles, one at a time, right at my potential client’s head.

“So, tell me about your demographics,” the company’s president asked. It was just then that a particularly well-thrown red Smartie nailed the man right on the nose, making an eerie BLAPP that echoed for several seconds in the now silent conference room.

My jaw dropped, my daughter stopped—completely— and the man who would have been my next advertising customer peered down at the offending object for a moment and then looked at my daughter who was still staring at his nose.

After what seemed an eternity, he picked up the red candy assault weapon and—ate it!

“Mmmm. The red ones are my favorite,” he said, smiling.

My daughter giggled.

I left with a full-page ad and the knowledge that, single mom or not, anything was possible!

Nicole M. Whitney

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