#SWAAYthenarrative

This Mother Brought Childcare To Millennial Coworking Spaces

People

It was May of 2010 when I found myself, six months pregnant, crying in the backseat of a car service, as my in-house position was on the chopping block from another round of corporate cuts. I must have cried for about a week. Not because I really missed my job, but because I felt helpless… and lost. Entering my third trimester, I couldn’t even apply for jobs. Who would hire me?


Then one day, when I literally found myself barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen watching a marathon of Real Housewives of New York, I stopped being sad. I realized this could be an opportunity to reinvent myself; and luckily, I soon secured a job with a former employer. I was to start some time after my baby’s arrival. It never even occurred to me that I may want to stay home with a baby. I always assumed I would want to work.

My first daughter arrived on Labor Day weekend. We hired a nanny, who started when my daughter turned 6-weeks-old. I went back to work at week seven, ramping up to four days of work in New York City, and one day a week from home in the New Jersey suburbs.

As most new mothers will tell you, going back to work is hard. Tears were shed. Pump parts were forgotten. Late nights were hard. Sleepless nights even harder.

But I managed. I had the support of my husband, work got busy, my baby girl was happy, and life rolled right along.

Around this time, I also read an article in USA Today about a new trend in office spaces called coworking. Hmm, I thought. How cool would it be to have a place like that here, in the suburbs, that also has childcare? I dreamed of a place where I could plug in, participate in conference calls, fulfill my job responsibilities, and still nurse my infant throughout the day. But work was busy, life was busy, and I had little time to devote to cooking dinner, let alone nurturing a business idea. So I let the concept gestate.

And then I got pregnant again.

This time, I wanted to take a longer maternity leave - four months off, my company’s max. I wanted to use the time to decide how to move forward. Did I want to continue working full-time? Did I want to stay home with my girls? Did I want to work part-time? What was the right formula for me?

Deborah Engel during her daughter's birthday party at Work and Play

I quickly realized I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. But I also couldn’t commit to the long hours and endless commute anymore. I tried negotiating a part-time deal with my employer; they said no. I wrestled with what to do, and after having a heart-to-heart with a senior level female executive, who reminded me that kids are only young once, I decided to call it quits and launch my own business.

I remembered the idea I had for coworking and childcare, which my husband dubbed Work and Play, and I decided to pursue it while also freelancing as a public relations specialist. I started attending networking events and met other entrepreneurs in the community. I talked about my idea for a flexible workspace, one that would also offer drop-in, customizable childcare.

In late 2013, while seven months pregnant with a third daughter, I bought a building that is now Work and Play. By offering childcare and a workspace, we are offering a solution for parents who want to balance their career and family. Our community is made up of creatives, entrepreneurs, mothers, fathers, friends and their young children.

What have I learned on this journey so far?

1. Learn something new from everyone you meet. People are interesting. They have fascinating careers. They have stories to tell. Ask questions.

2. Don’t try too hard to figure out your future. Your goals and ideals might change. Focus on today. But also allow yourself to daydream.

3. If you’re young or in transition, consider jobs that allow for flexibility - find a trade that you can use at a company or freelance, like a graphic designer, copywriter or social media marketer. Therapy of all kinds - speech, OT, PT, psychological - allow for flexible schedules through private practice.

4. Be confident in your decision and know you won’t be perfect. You may mess up. You may feel you could do better. But trust me, you’re doing great!

Beth Goldring, Director of Play, at Work and Play's childcare space

5 Min Read
Featured

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top

You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.