Saturday, May 13, 2006

Part 3: Working Mother

I am not very fond of that term, 'working mother'. It implies that some mothers do not work, which is not true in the slightest. I would have changed the title to 'Part 3: Mother Who Works Outside the Home' but that seems a little fussy and slightly long, so I left it as it was but with this disclaimer.

Despite my qualms with stay at home motherhood, I could not envision myself doing anything else. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was going to stay home with my child at least until she started school. I wanted to be this cool, do-it-all myself super mom. I wanted to say things like, "It's almost time for playgroup! Let me grab the homemade flaxseed cookies. Everybody into the minivan!". When the harsh realities of economics forced me into a job search after two years of stay at home motherhood, I was horrified. Work? Leave my baby? Be out of the house? Then I was accepting and almost eager. Work? Get out of the house? When can I start?

My first foray back into the working world was cleaning offices part time at night. I went to work around five, and got home a little after nine. It was hard work, and more than a little dirty, but it paid decently and I was really enjoying getting out, being around other people, and helping out with the finances. I did miss Jacelyn's recently instituted 8 o'clock bedtime, but trusted in Brian and his family to make sure she stayed on her schedule. Working part-time wasn't too bad, and inspired very little separation anxiety for Jacelyn or myself. Michelle and Joe had recently moved back into town and in with us, and she suddenly had two new and doting relatives around to keep her busy. I didn't have to worry about paying anyone to watch her, because Brian was off by 6pm at the latest and he could watch her.

The novelty of working again wore off fairly quickly. I found myself watching the clock more during the day, thinking, 'I only have 3 more hours with Jacelyn until I have to leave for work' and so on. Working in the evenings caused me to miss out on family dinners, and I found myself missing bathtime, storytime and bedtime with Jacelyn more and more. The bedtime schedule that I had so strictly adhered to slowly started slipping away, a victim of well-intended yet slightly indulgent family members. I felt a little frazzled, even with Michelle's help after she moved in, trying to get everything done around the house during the day.

A convenient excuse to find another line of work arose when my boss called me at home one morning, yelling about me stealing clocks, of all the ridiculous things. I was devastated and very upset by the angry accusation, made without merit or proof, and even though the clocks were found and my good name restored, I didn't want to work for the company or the owner anymore. I was secretly pleased that I had found a reason to leave the job, and wondered if staying home again was a possibility. It was not.

Opportunity arose in the form of dear Jen, who got me a job working part-time with her at Dollarhide's. Michelle, who had not yet found a job in town, offered to watch Jacelyn while I worked, so I had in home childcare. I enjoyed the work, found it interesting and different, but despaired about money. After paying Michelle and putting gas in the car, there wasn't a whole lot left over. Working part time was not paying off, and when the opportunity to work full time arose, I hesitantly agreed. I'll never forget that first morning. Since Michelle was watching Jacelyn and living with us, I didn't have to worry about getting Jacelyn up and dressed and ready for day care, which saved me considerable time and trouble. I do remember how bizarre it felt, that first morning of going in early, to know that when Jacelyn woke up, it wouldn't be to me. When she climbed out of bed and went down the hall calling out my name, I wouldn't be there to answer.

It's a balancing act - just like everything else in life, only with motherhood the stakes feel higher (to me). I'm half the mother I want to be, half the employee I could be, and none of the wife I should be. And I understand fully how easy I have it - living with family eases the burden considerably. I don't know how real working mothers do it, much less single mothers, yikes. I feel wrung out, overextended. Upon arriving home in the evenings, my daughter needs my attention. And so does the laundry, and the bathroom. There are dishes to be done, toys to pick up, everything is covered in dust, Jacelyn's room needs a thorough bulldozing to clean up the crap on the floor, there are errands to be run, bills to be paid, and the weeds in the front yard are up to the baby's waist. There's a neverending stream of dull activities and tasks to be accomplished, and in the middle of it all is a precocious little toddler who doesn't understand why her mother is never home anymore, and why when she is home she's so grumpy.

I lose sight, now and then, and find myself buried in the stress and drudgery. Overwhelmed and fraught with woe. Jacelyn always manages to help me throw off the doldrums, somehow. She'll say something funny, or she'll give me a snuggle, or she will say, "I need a big smile, mommy. Show me a big smile". How can I refuse?

For some time I always considered myself to be something of a feminist. Maybe a more conservative feminist, but I held some feminist viewpoints. While I appreciate the work of our foremothers to assure us of the rights we have today, I don't really affiliate myself with the movement (I'm certain they're devastated, ha-ha). Women became increasingly free to pursue higher education and careers. Liberating? Yes. Empowering? Certainly. It's also dangerous. The underlying message is that women can have it all. We can have careers and husbands and children, and because we are strong, giving and powerful we can balance it.

As the economy weakens and the two-career family becomes the norm rather than the exception, having it all often means having too much. I'm certain that there are women out there with careers, children, and good, healthy relationships with their husbands and they are sailing through, feeling fine. I'm not handling things with that much grace, but I'm certainly trying. And as I've said before, and as a dear, dear friend of mine likes to remind me, that is what matters. That I'm trying.

And I will continue to try.

I'm constantly reminded of Jacelyn when I'm at work, and I think of her all the time. I know she's safe and well cared for. But I miss her, greatly. I will leave work for lunch, and the weather will be beautiful, and I will think sadly about what she and I could be doing at that particular moment were I not at work. At a park? Swimming somewhere? Maybe blowing some bubbles? When there's a loud thunderstorm, I will think longingly of the mornings we would snuggle in my bed on rainy mornings, watching Sesame Street and singing, 'Rain, Rain, Go Away'. I also consider that those home-together-all-day times are rapidly drawing to a close with the start of pre-school in August. My baby is growing up, and I'm tearfully standing by and watching it happen, and can almost feel time passing me by.

I want a balanced life. John Boland once told me, "You work to live, you don't live to work". Amen, John - I want to work enough to live and enjoy the rest of my time. I want time with my daughter, while still allowing time for household tasks and maybe even for myself. And sometimes, when there's grass to cut and laundry to wash and my beautiful daughter says, "Mommy, let's go to the playground!", I'm going to go. And forget about the grass and the laundry and remember that my little girl isn't going to be four years old much longer, and we'll never get this time back. I will gleefully and shamelessly shirk responsibility for the sake of love and lasting memories.

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