Many new mothers have to face the challenge of when to head back to work. Some mothers go to work because they need the money, some go to work because staying home all day with the baby doesn’t make them happy, and some do it because they used up all of their maternity leave. Not many mothers take their babies to work with them though, but when Petra was ten months old I did just that: I took a job at the Finca Tatin in Guatemala.
I liked being with Petra all the time, but our finances weren’t in great shape. My educational background and work history is in education, I’m a teacher. But I married a traveler, and I was still breastfeeding and Wade wasn’t jumping at the chance to be with Petra full time, which meant that getting a job as a teacher wasn’t going to happen. But at the rate we were going through our money while traveling through Central America, we would have to go home sooner than we thought. So when the opportunity to do a work exchange at a hotel came our way we decided to give it a try.
We were staying at the Finca Tatin, when one of the workers there mentioned that he was going to be leaving in a month, and if we were interested we might be able to take his place. We were definitely interested. Finca Tatin is a little jungle paradise near Livingston, Guatemala on the Rio Dulce. The Argentinian owner was friendly and laid back and his three kids would be there in a month. Even though his kids were way older than Petra, they would make a nice family atmosphere. Hotel work exchanges aren’t really worth it unless you like the place you’re at. We definitely liked the Finca Tatin.
That’s not to say that working there was without its challenges. We were responsible for all the reception work from 8am to 8pm, handling reservations, taking money, calling boats and organizing tours, greeting guests when they came in, serving dinner, and turning on and off the generator at night. Since the hotel was in the middle of the jungle and the only transportation was by boat, this involved a fair amount of organizing, especially when compared with hostels in cities.
Wade and I usually were in the lobby area together, both of us working and watching Petra during the busy times. When it was quieter, I was mostly in lobby with Petra so Wade could get some work done on the website, though he was generous about giving me breaks.
There were definitely some tense times, like when Petra started crying while I was on the phone trying to take a reservation in Spanish, or when I was giving new clients the rundown on the place and her diaper leaked all over the floor. But it helped having Wade a shout away as backup and having the owner being understanding and calm about it. It was also hard to live our days together without any privacy. We were in the lobby all the time. I had to breastfeed on the couch, next to where everyone was hanging out. Petra napped in the hammock while tourists took pictures of her. We had to throw away one of Petra’s toy stacking cups after a hotel guest used it as an ashtray and burned a hole in the bottom.
There were plenty of benefits to working at the Finca Tatin as well. It was nice to be in one place for awhile. It was wonderful to be able to live in such a uniquely beautiful place too, one that we couldn’t have afforded to live too long without doing a work exchange. Between the owner’s family and the girls who cleaned and cooked for the hostel, I had more support than when we were just traveling as a family. Wade and I could even get away by ourselves for a couple hours while one of the girls watched Petra.
Petra also had plenty of attention. Even if I was busy for a couple minutes, one of the workers or the family or even sometimes a guest would start playing with her. It was also good for me to have some outside stimulation and the challenge of working again. Though I love being home with Petra, full days without an adult conversation and nothing to do but build block towers wears on you.
After three months, we were ready to go again, but the experience of working in a hostel with a baby was a sweet one. I hadn’t really realized it was possible to work with a baby until I did it. We’ll definitely be on the look out for more work opportunities like this as we continue to travel the world as a family.