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.
By Marisa Cohen
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.