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Would You Bring Your Kids to the Office Full Time?

New England mom Denise Towne wasn't sure what to do about child care for her baby, until her company invited her to keep her little one by her side from 9 to 5.

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Marisa Cohen

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When Denise Towne packed her hiking boots and moved from upstate New York to Vermont after graduating high school, she couldn't wait to lose herself in the beautiful scenery, the hiking trails, and all the opportunities to go snowboarding. But it quickly dawned on Denise, now 38, who lives in the tiny town of Cabot, that the sports-lover's paradise she'd chosen was also a great place to raise a family. "Everywhere you go, you see a friendly face," she explains. "Living in a small town is like having an extended family — everyone watches out for everyone else's kids."

By the time Denise got married to Steve, a high school teacher, and was expecting her first child, in 2002, she had also found what she considered the perfect job: As production manager at the children's clothing company Zutano, Denise oversees work being done in facilities as far away as Macao, all from her office in a converted barn surrounded by maple trees. It's the kind of low-key office where coworkers feel like family, the owners bring their dogs to work with them, and their daughters stop by after school to visit, Denise explains.

But Denise's rural idyll almost came crashing down around her when she began exploring child care. "Staying home was not an option — our family needed both salaries to pay the mortgage on the house we had just bought — and we couldn't afford a full-time nanny, so I just assumed I'd put the baby in day care," she explains. But the only day care in Cabot was completely full, and the next closest ones were in Montpelier, a 45-minute drive away. "I wanted to be able to pop in and see my baby during the day," Denise says. "I couldn't stand the thought of being so far away from him."

Denise tried to hide her anxiety from Michael and Uli Belenky, Zutano's owners, but they must have known, she admits. The Belenkys, it turns out, already had a solution in mind: They asked Denise if she would consider bringing her baby to work with her. "They said I could bring him for up to a year, but if it didn't work out, we would end it earlier," Denise explains.

"I couldn't imagine how it would work"

Denise was intrigued by the idea, but she wasn't sold on it right away. "I couldn't imagine how I would make it work," she admits. "What if the baby cried? What if I had to nurse in the middle of a meeting?" Even more worrisome to her was how her coworkers would react. "I was the first person at the company to try this, and I was afraid everyone would resent me for it. Would the people who didn't have babies think I was getting special treatment? Would they be mad at me if the baby was disruptive or the office smelled like dirty diapers?" So before she said yes, she went around and asked each of her coworkers if they were really, truly okay with the idea. Not only were they okay with it, Denise reports, but they were genuinely excited. "We're a children's clothing company, after all," she says with a laugh. "Having a baby around to model all the clothes for photo shoots was actually a bonus!"

So 10 weeks after her son, Patrick, was born, Denise bundled him up and brought him to her office, which had been outfitted with a crib and changing table. Working with a newborn next to her desk was easier than she expected. "He would spend the day either sleeping or nursing," Denise recalls. There were a few embarrassing moments, of course — loud diaper explosions in the middle of a staff meeting; the time a FedEx guy visibly blanched when she opened her shirt to nurse. Denise says she quickly got into the habit of plopping Patrick in the stroller and taking him out for a walk to cool off as soon as he got fussy — which was fairly often. Still, Patrick soon became a beloved office mascot. "If someone just needed a pick-me-up, they would stop by my office to see the baby, and they'd always end up leaving with a smile," Denise says.

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