It's working for Jessica Sidman, Food Editor for Washingtonian Magazine
Washington , DC
Anytime there’s a big shift in culture and lifestyle—like was forced on us by the pandemic—there’s a big opportunity for entrepreneurship.
You don’t need to be as prepared as you think you do. I was diagnosed with preeclampsia in my first pregnancy and so I had to rush to the hospital very suddenly and unexpectedly to be induced five weeks early. I was not prepared at all! I had put the car seat in the car a couple days prior but that was about it. I had a birthing and newborn care class scheduled that I never got to go to. But mostly, I wasn’t emotionally and mentally prepared at that moment (maybe no one is). Ultimately, though, you do it and you figure it out. You really don’t need much. You don’t need to take a class. You certainly don’t need to have a picture-perfect nursery set up. And for every other last minute need, there are Amazon deliveries!
Being pregnant got me really into non-alcoholic cocktails, which I was probably a little dismissive of in the past. Now, though, they’re having a real moment. Trendy restaurants are highlighting them on menus, and a wide range of zero-proof spirits have come on the market. I really appreciate a bartender who can make something interesting (and not too sweet!) and not just hand over a glorified lemonade. Another thing, now that I have two babies: I’m much more aware of which restaurants and bars have changing tables in restrooms. I just wish more places would have them in the women’s room AND the men’s room. Guys change diapers too, you know!
My biggest craving in both pregnancies was citrus. I’m usually kind of ambivalent about oranges but I HAD to have one every day. I also became obsessed with kiwis, which is a fruit I don’t usually buy. As for energy… I didn’t really have much, especially in the first trimester. Working from home was one of the few silver linings of being pregnant during a pandemic because I could actually sneak in a nap in the middle of the day (shhh!).
So many people, no matter their industry, took a long hard look at their work lives during the pandemic and decided they weren’t going to put up with shit anymore. A lot of the restaurant workers I write about didn’t have healthcare or sick leave. In many cases, their employers didn’t provide sufficient PPE, even as they were expected to continue working in close quarters. As the pandemic progressed, many had to deal with harassment from customers who refused to wear marks or show proof of vaccination. So it’s no wonder a lot of people decided to leave the industry or do their own thing. Plus, let’s not forget how many restaurant workers were suddenly laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. At the same time, there was so much resiliency. Former chefs, servers, and others kick-started their own businesses, sometimes out of their own homes, fueled exclusively by social media. I can think of quite a few that have become quite successful since. Anytime there’s a big shift in culture and lifestyle—like was forced on us by the pandemic—there’s a big opportunity for entrepreneurship.
Yes, the story you’re referring to is about a certain set of well-to-do Washington parents who put their kids’ social lives on hold at the beginning of the pandemic, then decided to go all out with extravagant birthday parties once vaccines became available. We’re talking, like, thousands of dollars spent just on balloons. I’d like to think being a mom helped me relate to my sources, and I totally understand the impulse of wanting to make up for all the canceled playdates and missed activities. My own kid, however, didn’t get a second birthday party, thanks to the Delta wave. She got a homemade cake and a single balloon.
I think probably the biggest thing being a mom has taught me is the importance of patience. Not that I’m all that great at being patient, but it’s something I strive for with my kids, my husband, and myself.
Sometimes being a working mom is like living a double life. I often feel like I’ve had a full day by the time my daughter goes to daycare at 8 am. I wish I could share some great secret about balancing it all and staying well-rested, but frankly, I can’t. It’s exhausting most of the time. It’s especially hard as someone who’s always been very ambitious and career-oriented to have new priorities as a parent. I try to give myself permission to not be perfect, which is a challenge. Thankfully, my husband is always there to tell me I’m doing a great job, even when it really doesn’t feel like it.
I’m not a big drinker generally, but the one thing I had fantasies about in my second pregnancy was an icy cold, extra dirty martini. After my son was born, my husband gifted me a martini kit with all these specialty stuffed olives. That was the perfect gift.
My daughter was about six months old at the beginning of the pandemic when everything shut down. We pulled her out of daycare and were just juggling her back and forth while still working full-time. Work was intense then, too. My husband and I are both journalists, so Covid was one of the biggest stories of our careers. I don’t know how we got through that period—and we were some of the lucky ones. So many of the people I was writing about in the spring of 2020 had suddenly lost their jobs or didn’t have the luxury to work from home and were putting their lives at risk. I think every parent was just screaming into the void at that point.
I got pregnant with my second shortly after I was vaccinated, at which point I thought the pandemic would basically be over. Ha! I was probably more cautious than a lot of friends and colleagues. My job typically involves a lot of eating out, but I didn’t do indoor dining while pregnant. Probably the most stressful part of the entire pandemic for me was the beginning of this year, between the omicron wave and my February due date. I wasn’t overly worried about getting really sick, but I feared if my husband got Covid he wouldn’t be able to come to the hospital for the birth and I’d be all alone. Being pregnant is stressful enough, but the pandemic added a whole new layer of things to freak out about.
Time. Breastfeeding/pumping, daycare pickup/dropoff, finding something a toddler will eat, averting meltdowns, and bedtime routine can add up to a second full time job. Plus, my actual job involves a lot of dining out and being in the know about restaurants. To be honest, I’m not sure what that will look like with two kids! I like to bring them when I can, but that’s not realistic at a lot of places. Going out for dinner at 9 pm after they go to sleep?
I know a lot of new parents are reluctant to eat out with their kids, and I don’t blame them. When things go south, they go really south (like the time one of them started crying hysterically and the other peed her pants.) But I would say it’s still worth it to teach your kids from a young age how to behave in restaurants. And as someone who loves dining out, it’s also nice to not have to totally give that up just because I have kids. The key is finding ways to not disrupt other diners and to not make service staff hate you. My pro-tips? Go right when the restaurant opens (5/5:30) when it’s not too crowded and your kids aren’t overly tired. Take advantage of all the streateries and outdoor dining that have popped up during the pandemic. Loud restaurants are your friend! Err on the side of being over-prepared: a baggie of Cheerios, extra change of clothes, coloring book/tablet (I am not above screens when they keep the peace). And most importantly, tip well!
I think one of the reasons you haven’t traditionally seen as many women in the upper levels of the industry is because it’s not very accommodating to moms, or really parents in general. You work evenings, you don’t get a lot of time off, and the benefits often aren’t great. But I do think there’s a new generation trying to make restaurants more friendly to parents with perks like paid parental leave in addition to full health benefits. There are also a growing number of opportunities for women in food outside of traditional restaurants. So hopefully the future is just more women in the industry succeeding because they actually have a fair chance to succeed.
I’ve been lucky that a lot of my colleagues and editors are also moms. It makes such a difference when the people you work with get what it’s like when your kid’s home sick or you barely slept because the baby woke up at 3 am. Also, I’d be remiss to not mention my husband, who handles daycare drop offs, changes diapers, and makes a mean cocktail after a long day.
Read more about Jessica here – http://www.jessicasidman.com/about-me.html