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The Phone Call

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This Labor Day marks one year from the scary phone call I received. It took me this long to finally be able to face the facts and write it down.

Just like a usual Labor Day for a startup in Silicon Valley, I asked my nanny to work and look after my four children. I was at work busily getting ready to ship Nest's second product -- Protect, the smoke and carbon monoxide detector. We were working 24/7 weekends and holidays to ship it. That's when the phone call came. I don't usually answer phone calls when I am busy but it was unusual for my nanny to call me during the day, so I answered. She was crying. She said "I am so sorry. I got in a car accident. All of your kids were in the car. It is bad. Your kids are OK. Hurry." She was clearly in shock and panicked and I started shaking. I don't remember how I got to the scene. The car the nanny hit was pretty badly damaged (the driver was OK and very understanding), but our SUV, besides the airbags having fired, was in a reasonable shape.

As soon as I saw the faces of my kids, I started crying. My 1-year-old started crying pointing at the cars but it looked like he had been crying for a while. My 5-year-old was being strong but broke down crying as soon as he saw my face. My 8-year-old twins reacted differently: one was in daze and the other screaming about her shoes being broken. The nanny was apologizing over and over while showing several injuries from the airbag and seatbelt. She had been in a horrific car accident as a child where she lost her father so she was devastated. Thankfully, none of the physical injuries was serious.

While these things can happen to anyone, I couldn't help but completely blame myself for putting work ahead of my family on a holiday. I usually try my best to balance being a VP at a fast growing startup and spending time with my children, but this event tipped me over the edge. My brain was blank except about my family. Even after the kids were OK without me being around, I wasn't OK being away from them. I couldn't imagine anyone driving them around but myself. I couldn't imagine anyone else being at the sideline of their extracurricular activities. My body shell went to work daily but inside I wasn't anywhere near work. I saw a psychiatrist, telling him that this is the end of my career because it just doesn't make sense for me to ever go back to work.

Fortunately our brains allows us to forget things (this is why I have four children even though each pregnancy involves nine months of continuous nausea). Over time, I was able to get back to work because I wanted to. My husband and I started sharing drop-offs and pick-ups. We stuck with our nanny, and even though it took nine months to get enough courage, she now drives kids around near home and school.

Through this process, I have developed some habits/beliefs even more than before. First, I never waste time at work. I run from one meeting to another carrying the lunch that my admin brought for me hours ago and that I still haven't had time to eat. If at any point, I feel that time would be better spent with my kids, then I know I am not doing the right thing. Second, I try to have a 3 a.m.-3 p.m. workday whenever possible; getting up to work before the kids get up and attempting to end work at the end of the school day. If I only got to see the kids for an hour or two before they go to sleep, it would not be worth working. I receive explicit and implicit judgment when I leave work early but I am doing it.

Hopefully, one day in the future, the world will be different. Just like it is acceptable for engineers to show up at 10 a.m. without judgment (to avoid traffic or to work out at the gym, or simply because they were working late), it should be OK to let moms/dads go early without judging them (so long as they are getting their job done making up time elsewhere). And finally, I want to make sure that my kids can see me as a role model when they grow up. This is nearly impossible short term when they complain that I didn't come to pick them up from school at 1:15 p.m. when they get out on an early day. But my goal is for my children to have amazing family lives while also improving other people's lives through their work. I want to do everything possible to make it easier for them to do that in the future.

This year on Labor Day, I am spending the day with my family.

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